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For the second straight season, Leafs nation is enthused by a hot start to the season. Eerily similar to last season’s pace, the Leafs find themselves in exactly the same position after six games: four wins, a loss and an overtime/shootout loss. It was around the sixth game last season that the Leafs season began to fall apart, eventually leading to the Leafs missing the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

Today I wanted to take a look at what exactly a strong start brings to a hockey club. I did some simple research; teams that won the Stanley Cup and their record after ten games (with record for October as well). Near the end we also look at the eighth place team each year in the East.

Although statistics aren’t the be all – end all for predicting outcomes, they can be useful for finding trends. Let’s dive into this one.

The Carolina Hurricanes (2005-2006)

The Hurricanes had a decent start to the 2005-2006 season, notching 14 points in their first ten games. It’s important to note that the ‘Canes started a nine game (at game seven) winning streak going all the way into November. The team earned at least a point in 80% of their first ten games played, with a win rate of 60%.

Their official record after 10 games: 6 – 2  - 2  (14 points).

Their official record for the month of October (11GP): 7 – 2 – 2 (16 points).

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The Anaheim Ducks (2006-2007)

The Ducks started the 2006-2007 season with an absolute bang, racking up 17 points after ten games. The team earned at least a point in 100% of their first ten games, with a win rate of 70%.

Their official record after 10 games: 7 – 0 – 3 (17 points).

Their official record for the month of October (12 GP): 9 – 0 -2 (21 points).

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The Detroit Red Wings (2007-2008)

The Wings had the second best start to a season out of all post-lockout champions, netting 15 points in their first ten games. The Wings would eventually start a nine game winning streak lasting into November. The team earned at least a point in 80% of their first ten games, with a win rate of 70%.

Their official record after 10 games: 7 – 2- 1 (15 points).

Their official record for the month of October (13 GP): 10 – 2 – 1 (21 points).

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The Pittsburgh Penguins (2008-2009)

The Pens had the “worst” start of all eventual champions, ending up with only 12 points after ten games. It’s important to note the team was out of a playoff spot when they fired Michel Terrien and hired Dan Bylsma to be the new head coach. The team earned at least a point in 70% of their first ten games, with a win rate of 50%

Their official record after 10 games: 5 – 3 – 2 (12 points).

Their official record for the month of October (11 GP): 5 – 4 – 2 (12 points).

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The Chicago Blackhawks (2009-2010)

The Blackhawks had another “weak” start out of post-lockout champions, notching 13 points in their first ten games. The team earned at least a point in 70% of their first ten games played, with a win rate of 60%.

The official record after 10 games: 6 – 3 – 1 (13 points).

Their official record for the month of October (12 GP): 8 – 4 -1 (17 points).

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The Boston  Bruins (2010-2011)

The Bruins had a decent start en route to their eventual Stanley Cup victory, ending up with 14 points after ten games. The team earned at least a point in 70% of their games in the first ten, with a win rate of 70%.

Their official record after 10 games: 7 -3 – 0 (14 points).

Their official record for the month of October (8 GP): 6 -2 – 0 (12 points).

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The Toronto Maple Leafs (2010-2011)

The Leafs had their best post-lockout start to a season in 2010-2011, but shortly after the wheels fell off and the club never made it to the playoffs. The Leafs would eventually start an eight game losing streak lasting into mid November (November 16 to be exact). The Leafs earned at least a point in 60% of their first ten games played, with a win rate of 50%.

Their official record after 10 games: 5 – 4 – 1 (11 points).

Their official record for the month of October (10 GP): 5 – 4 – 1 (11 points).

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Cup Champion vs. Early Season Success Trends

What can be taken from all these statistics you just perused through? Let’s make a list.

  • The team accumulates at least 12 points in it’s first ten games.
  • The team has a win rate of 50% or higher and must also earn a point in 70% of their games.

Also,

  • No post-lockout Stanley cup champion has had less than 99 points.
  • No post-lockout Stanley cup champion has finished lower than second in their division; fourth in their conference.

Now keep in mind that anything can happen. A team could squeak in the playoffs in eighth place and potentially win the cup. They could very well defy all the odds, and start the season poorly and still win the cup. However, for arguments sake let’s just assume the trends to hold true, considering there are no anomalies in the statistics post-lockout.

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Trends vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (2010-2011)

  • Accumulate at least 12 points after first ten games? FAIL (11 points after 10 GP)
  • Win rate of 50% or higher? PASS (50%) AND earn points in at least 70% of team’s first ten games? FAIL (60%)

The Leafs failed both of the trends and consequently missed the playoffs and did not win the Stanley Cup.

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Theoretically: Toronto Maple Leafs (2011-2012) and the Stanley Cup

The Leafs are once again off to a hot start, going 4 – 1 – 1 in their first six games. They currently have 9 points. To be considered for all three trends the Leafs would need to:

  • Accumulate at least 3 points in their next 4 games. They could squeak by with a 1 – 2 – 1 record.
  • Achieve win rate of at least 50% and obtain at least a point in 70% for their first ten games. They’re currently at 50% (over projected 10). Two more wins or a win + overtime loss would do it. 

I’m not saying achieving any of these trends guarantees the Leafs the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup. I’m not saying following these trends even assures the Leafs a playoff spot. I’m just saying, typically (statistically, by the trends, however you want to call it) the eventual Stanley Cup champion will follow these trends. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to do the same this season.

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Afterthoughts: Eighth Place Teams

Some may just be satisfied to see the Leafs reach the playoffs for the first time in six years. I know I’d be, it’s all about the baby steps. Let’s quickly take a look at the eighth place team in the Eastern conference each year of the lockout and see how the trends are affected.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2005-2006) : 10 GP | 5 – 3 – 2 | 12 points | 50% win rate; 70% point earning rate for first 10 games.

New York Islanders (2006-2007) : 10 GP | 4 – 4 – 2 | 10 points | 40% win rate; 60% point earning rate for first 10 games.

Boston Bruins (2007-2008) : 10 GP | 6 – 4 – 0 | 12 points | 60% win rate; 60% point earning rate for first 10 games.

Montreal Canadiens (2008-2009) : 10 GP | 8 – 1 – 1 | 17 points | 80% win rate; 90% point earning rate for first 10 games.

Montreal Canadiens (2009-2010) : 10 GP | 5 – 5 – 0 | 10 points | 50% win rate; 50% point earning rate for first 10 games.

New York Rangers (2010-2011) : 10 GP | 6 – 3 – 1 | 13 points | 60% win rate; 70% point earning rate for first 10 games.

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Afterthoughts: Eight Place Teams vs Early Season Success Trends

Let’s yet again make an (abbreviated) consensus trends list.

  • To make the eighth spot in the Eastern conference, typically the team accumulates at least 10 points in the first ten games.
  • To make the eight spot in the Eastern conference, typically the team has a win rate of at least 40% and point earning rate of 50% for the first 10 games.

This time there’s quite a few anomalies. Montreal went from an 80% win rate / 90% point earning rate to a 50% win rate / 50% point earning rate in two straight seasons, yet still found themselves in eighth place both years. Teams were able to get in to the playoffs eventually with at least 10 points earned, 40% win rate / 50% point earning rate in their first ten games.

Considering the Leafs current record of 4 – 1 – 1, their 9 points and 40% win rate / 50% point earning rate (both percentages projected over 10 games), they would only need one more point to be “trending” towards at least an eighth place finish. (Technically, they’re still “in the hunt” for the cup as well, according to the trends covered above for cup champions).

The 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs would have been trending towards a playoff spot. They had 11 points, a 50% win rate and 60% point earning rate. As we know, however, the team did not make the playoffs. This proves that having a “trendy” start to the season doesn’t statistically guarantee you anything, but rather offers an interesting look at how playoff teams generally start.

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Closing Thoughts

The following article was a long-winded attempt at possibly uncovering the patterns behind starting a season well. I looked at post-lockout champions and documented their first ten games, attempting to see if there was a consensus number behind them; trends if you will. I also, for arguments sake, took a look at the eighth place team each year in the Eastern conference, although to a less in-depth approach as the champions. What I have found is some statistical evidence to lend credence to the fact that a good start can go a long way towards success.

Am I suggesting that these statistics are set in stone for determining who wins the cup, or even who makes the playoffs? Most definitely not. We all know that on paper the outcome may be one way, when in fact in reality it turns out completely different.

Looking at past trends is a fun, thoughtful (and tedious) way to look at how teams start the season and how much success they eventually have. Seasons are not won in the first ten games; in fact you’re much more likely to lose a season.

As the stats/trends/patterns show, a good start to a season will most often lead to success. The team in question just needs to keep it up over the course of the season, and not succumb to other variables such as injures, suspensions, etc.

Like all long journeys, it all begins with the first few steps.



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