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Welcome To Math Class: The Season’s Not Dead (Yet)

After a 4-2-0 start, the Columbus Blue Jackets have gone 0-8-1 since then and tumbled to last place in the Metropolitan Division. Some fans are even talking (somewhat seriously?) about McDavid v.s. Eichel in the 2015 Draft.

Let’s pump the breaks for a second.

Welcome to math class. Today we will be covering the NHL standings and the all-important “playoff cut line.” It may seem bleak, CBJ fans, but there may be a way out of this hole just yet.

As of 11/13/14, the Jackets have a 4-10-1 record which is good enough for 9 points. That is 8 points behind the Washington Capitals who sit in 3rd place. That’s 8 points to make up over the final 67 games. 134 points will be up for grabs.

This is the point where I remind you the team’s record after 15 games last season: 5-10-0. 10 points through the same number of games. And oh yeah, there was a whole month without Bobrovsky to come. Bob may make his return this weekend or early next week.

Let’s rewind to two years ago, during the lockout-shortened season. Remember being in the West? Yeah, I don’t miss that either. The team started 5-12-2, good enough for last place. Fans were salivating over drafting Seth Jones to go along with Ryan Murray, or perhaps selecting Nathan MacKinnon to be the franchise center of the future. With just 58 points (29 games) remaining in that season, the Jackets went 19-5-5 – among the best in the NHL down the stretch – to pull into a tie for the final playoff spot.

There’s more runway this season than in 2013. The team is a point off last year’s start, and reinforcements are *fingers crossed* on the way in just the next couple weeks. The general consensus coming into the year was that the team could make the playoffs without Nathan Horton, but he would be a key piece for a deeper playoff run. We all know by now that his chances of ever suiting up again are pretty slim. Still, the guys in the room aren’t wavering in their belief that they can make the postseason.

James Wisniewski gave a quick interview after practice this week and said the team needs 96 points to get into the dance. 96 minus the current 9 points is 87. Wiz thinks the team needs 87 of the final 134 points up for grabs. That’s nearly a .650 winning percentage the rest of the way (for reference, the team finished the 2013 season with a .741 winning percentage the last 29 games. They finished last season by earning 83 of the final 134 points or a .619 winning percentage in the final 67 games). You’ll recall last year that 93 points got the Jackets the first Wild Card spot in the East. So it would seem Wiz’s guess of 96 might be a little bit too high. Let’s take a look.

Last season is the only season we have to go off of for the new look 16 team / 14 team conference split between the East and the West. Despite the move to the East with two more teams in the hunt, it appears to be the “easier” conference, at least when looking at the elite teams at the top.

The cutoff line last year was 93 points in the East and 91 points in the West. The season prior was the lockout season in which 96 points were available. Both cutoff points were 55 points, or a .573 winning percentage (roughly 93.9 points when equated to a full season). The cutoffs in 2011-2012 were 92 points in the East and 95 points in the West.

Again, only last season has the current East / West split. You can see, though, that Wiz’s estimate of 96 points is greater than any cutoff point in either conference the last three seasons. There needs to be another season or two of the current conference split before we can accurately predict a playoff cut line for each conference, in my opinion.

That said, let us average the cut lines from the last three seasons in both conferences, and use 94 for the lockout season in both conferences. I’ll do the math for you – *crunches numbers* – the average is 93.2 points. The East has not had a cutoff point above 94 points in any of the last three seasons, but we will use 94 points to be safe.

We can update Wisniewski’s estimate to 94 points necessary to get into the postseason, minus the 9 the team currently has, which comes out to 85 points in the final 67 games. That equates to a .634 winning percentage.

40-22-5? Can the team pull together a record like that? It certainly is tough to think about now given the injury situation (and, oh yeah, they haven’t won in 22 days), but they have also finished just as strongly the last couple seasons.

One last thing to consider are the divisional games – those “four pointers.” With the entire division above the Jackets right now, those take on some added importance. Five of the final seven games are against Metropolitan teams (four of the six April games). Six of the fifteen games in March are within the division. Six of the thirteen games in February are divisional matchups. There are just four divisional games in December and only three in January. It is going to be just as important to make sure the teams the Jackets are chasing do not gain ground, and they will have plenty of opportunities late in the year to ensure that happens while picking up points as well.

Get all that? All due respect to Wiz, he may want to double check his math (although I think everyone would be perfectly happy with 96 points). It is definitely an uphill climb but also one we have seen the team make the last two seasons. 85 points out of the final 67 games. It surely is a tough ask, but the winning needs to start now. Can the guys make it happen? It’s not out of the question.

Class dismissed.