Three points. That’s the number we should be focusing on for the rest of the month. The Rangers, who are now 1-5 to start the season, are currently five points out of a playoff spot. Yes, it’s early, but the magic number at the end of October is to be three points out of a playoff spot. This is no arbitrary number.
In 2013, Elliotte Friedman pointed out that teams four points out of a playoff spot in October rarely make the playoffs. Part of this is anecdotal, as a good number of these teams aren’t really playoff teams. However the loser point has completely changed the landscape in hockey. Playing to .500 hockey means you’re a bad team, not a mediocre team.
Since the shootout entered the NHL, we’ve never had a season in which two teams came from that far back to make it. And only one of the three comeback kings was more than four points out. That was Calgary. The Flames were seven points out in 2006-07, then went 40-22-9 to make it. The other survivors were the Buffalo Sabres (2010-11) and Boston Bruins (2011-12). The Sabres went 40-22-8; the Bruins, 45-22-4.
That is the most telling tidbit from Friedman’s piece in 2013. Those are the only three teams (as of 2013) that had come back to make the playoffs after falling more than four points out of the playoffs in October. The 2015-2016 Pengiuns started 0-3 and won the Cup, but these Rangers are not the Penguins.
This seems counter intuitive, since there are 70+ games remaining at the end of October. But the shootout and the loser point has completely changed the strategy of the game. Last year, 95 points was the magic number to get into the playoffs. It wasn’t that long ago that 92 points was the target.
Thirteen teams in the Eastern Conference finished with at least 80 points last season. Ten in the Western Conference. Only seven total teams in the entire league finished with fewer than 80 points. And only two teams were so bad that they finished with under 70 points (Colorado, Vancouver).
The loser point has given the illusion of competitiveness to many teams. Finishing hockey-.500 is no longer the sign of a good team in the realistic sense, but finishing .500 sure does give the team some good PR to use.
Based off Friedman’s work, the Rangers –to have a better chance at making the playoffs– will need to finish out October strong, and get to three points back of a playoff spot. The team is talented, if flawed, on paper, is talented enough to get their acts together. But time is running out, otherwise they will need 40+ wins from November-April. Doable, but tough."The magic number is three",