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You Do the Math: February 9 February 9, 2009

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

I’ve been getting a few more hits than usual on the Magic Numbers page, and I’ve fielded a couple of private questions about where I’m getting the numbers from. Here’s how I do it, and why I have the numbers that I do.

There are two numbers for every team that you need in order to figure out what the magic numbers are: the number of points they currently have, and the maximum possible points that they could theoretically attain, were they to win every remaining game.

Yes, I know, no hockey team runs the table. Yes, I know, for every winner, there must be a loser. And yes, the idea that the Islanders will go anywhere near .500 the rest of the way, let alone win out, is strictly theoretical. Nevertheless, if you’re dealing in clinching/elimination math, you do have to make some theoretical assumptions so that you can simplify the number-crunching.

To get a team’s maximum possible points–I use the phrase “top-end” to save keystrokes, and because it doesn’t sound so nerdy–you take the number of games remaining on their schedule, double it (2 points for a win), and add it to their current points. That’s it. That number is the maximum number of points possible for that team, assuming it runs the table.

OK, so what happens when they lose? Their current points obviously don’t go up, but the top-end comes DOWN by two. For an overtime or shootout loss, Current Points go UP by one, top-end comes DOWN by one, and the magic number always comes down by one.

To get the magic number itself, you subtract the higher team’s current points from the lower team’s top-end score. To add mathematical certainty, and not have to worry about tie breaks, I always add 1 to the result.

Teams in the middle actually have two magic numbers, one for clinching, one for elimination. Right now, the West is so tightly contested that only a handful of teams are within sight of clinching even a Top 14 spot in the conference. That’s why you see most of the West as closer to being eliminated from President’s Trophy consideration: they are just too close to the other teams in the West to clinch anything, and lagging too far behind Boston to keep up in the President’s Trophy chase.

The East, on the other hand, is more cut and dried: Boston can’t seem to lose, and the Islanders and Thrashers can’t seem to win. So as of this morning, the Bruins are a baker’s dozen away from their first mathematical clinching.

One note on style before it gets too close: for the “1P” C’s and E’s, I will be using negative numbers for clinching, and positive ones for elimination. Being assured of not picking first is a “positive” event, and being assured of a shot at the top spot is a “negative” one, so I’ll “sign” that particular item accordingly.

Also, I’m going to tinker with colored text on the table, and see if I can color “good” events green, and “bad” events red, without making the whole thing look ugly. No promises, but I’ll at least try it out in Preview mode before I decide whether or not to go through with it.

Kids, this is why you need to stay awake in math class…




1. june white - February 10, 2009

go for it!! Am eager to see the chart!

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