NHL Playoff Projections! — Staturday Weekly Column #16

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Hobart
1 year ago
Today’s staturday post will be a quick and early look at how different models are rating teams’ playoff chances around the NHL, with a necessary focus on the Canadian North division where our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs play.


The first model I’ll show you is Micah Blake McCurdy’s “Magnus 4” model, which is available on his website, hockeyviz.com (which is for subscribers only, which I highly recommend), or through periodic updates on his Twitter page. I’ll use the most recent Twitter updates so that everyone is on the same level here.
The first way to look at playoff projections is to look at points projections. The Magnus 4 model calculates a team’s projected points in the standings regularly, so this chart shows the changes in those projections over the last 2 weeks.
We can see that Toronto has been on a downward trend recently, both in results and in Magnus 4’s estimation of how those results might continue. The tail end of the trend does buck up significantly though, so Thursday’s win over the Jets apparently showed Magnus 4 something it liked.
The chart above also shows the expected points cutoff for each division as to which teams will make the playoffs and which teams won’t. If either Vancouver or Calgary make an unexpected surge, and/or Montreal takes an unexpected down turn, either of those Western Canadian teams could steal Montreal’s spot. But Montreal has a pretty significant point gap over the projected points cutoff, so they are probably safe for now.
Conversely, looking at the Central or West divisions, there are a cluster of teams around the projected points cutoff line, so a lot can still happen in those divisions.
Another way to look at this is to project playoff chances. Using the projected points cutoff and the projected play of each team, it can be calculated what the probability of a team making the playoffs is.
Looking at Toronto’s 99.9993% chance is funny, because despite the lead they’ve had on the division all season, they could still theoretically screw it up.
The last way Magnus 4 can give us insights into the NHL playoffs is by projecting each team’s chance of winning the Cup. Because we know how the playoffs are structured, and where each team are likely to end up within that bracket, we can use Magnus 4 to tell us who’s likely to go on to win their playoff series’ and, eventually, the Stanley Cup.
Looking very carefully, we can see that the Leafs have the second highest Cup chances in this model at 10%, with the Carolina Hurricanes leading at 13%. This is due to the North and East divisions having fewer Cup contenders in their division to contend with. Toronto is really only threatened by Winnipeg, Carolina is only threatened by Tampa and Florida, strong teams of course, but Carolina is clearly doing something Magnus 4 likes more than their division rivals. A team like the Colorado Avalanche have a significant threat in the Vegas Golden Knights to deal with, not to mention the Minnesota Wild. Similarly, the Penguins, Capitals, Islanders and Bruins all have to beat each other up before any of them can make the Semi-Finals.


Money puck’s information is a lot more compacted, and can be shown all in this one graph:
Money Puck’s model appears to round off that 0.0007% chance that the Leafs don’t make the playoffs included in Micah’s model, giving them an estimated 100% chance to make the playoffs. Following into the inner rings of the layered pie chart, we can see that Toronto has an 8.7% chance to win the Cup, a fair bit lower than the above 10%. In Money Puck’s model, the Leafs are beaten out in probability by 5 teams, and tied with Carolina at 8.7%.
Interestingly, this model must be factoring something with respect to Carolina and Toronto differently than in the Magnus 4 model.

Final Thoughts

This is just a quick slice of information on how Toronto fares to do in the playoffs as compared with the rest of the League. When it comes closer to playoff time, we’ll work through Toronto’s likely path to the Cup, and how they might fare on that journey.
For now, let’s revel in the fact that Kyle Dubas and Company have built a Toronto team that is a legitimate Cup contender; though whether they ever finally win one, only fate can decide.

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