In Search of 62

The OIlers without Khabibulin appear to be no better than the Oilers with Khabibulin. - Dilip Vishwanat

Can this version of the Oilers finish with fewer points than the worst teams in franchise history?

Flash back to April of 2010: The Oilers have just finished dead last with a season total of 62 points. As I'm sure you recall, it was a miserable season, one that was filled with injuries and marked the start of the Great Rebuild. After the season I remember thinking, and probably tweeting, that by default, next year couldn't be worse, that things had to get better. And then the Oilers, like they so often do, proved me wrong by finishing dead last with 62 points the next year as well. Not worse, but not better either. Sometimes I hate this team.

Back to today: The Oilers have 33 points in 46 games, a rate that gets them to 59 over an 82 game schedule. Even the most math challenged among us knows that 59 is less than 62, and would therefore set a new benchmark for futility should the Oilers maintain that pace through the final 36 games of the regular season.

I'll be honest, I hadn't really though about this version of the Oilers finishing with fewer points than the 2009/10 or 2010/11 teams. Those teams were terrible in so many ways that I believed getting back to that level was nearly impossible. But yesterday I was on the Lowdown with Lowetide and Mr. Lowetide asked me about the final 40 games of the season, and whether we should expect 15 wins the rest of the way. My answer was that we should because without 15 wins this team is all-time-franchise-worst kind of bad, and like I said, that just doesn't fit with my mental image of this team. I was told via Twitter by a couple of folks that I was wrong, so I thought I'd take a closer look at the schedule that lies ahead.

Past performance tends to be a good indicator of future performance, so I started out by figuring out the Oilers record against the upper, middle, and bottom thirds of the league based on point percentage. Then I assumed that the Oilers would have similar results against those teams over the last 36 games of the season. The following table provides a summary of what I found.

Top 10 Mid 10 Bottom 10
Record 2-15-1 3-9-3 9-3-1
Points/Game 0.28 0.60 1.46
Games Remaining 16 10 10
Expected Points 4 6 15

Based on what the team's results so far this season they should expect to add another 25 points to their current total. That's not encouraging in the search for 15 wins (really 14 because they already won one of the last 40 vs Tampa Bay). One thing that you might notice looking at the table is that the Oilers play a disproportionate number of their games against the top third of the NHL - as it stands right now 41% of their games would be against this group - because they play in the Western Conference. The Oilers would still be a lousy hockey team if they played in the East, but in all likelihood they'd be a lousy team with a better record, much like the Maple Leafs.

To try and account for the skill difference between the conferences I completed the exact same procedure using Fenwick close (via extraskater.com) instead of point percentage. This moves the Oilers win loss record around a little, but doesn't affect the final outcome at all.

Top 10 Mid 10 Bottom 10
Record 3-12-1 7-9-1 4-6-3
Points/Game 0.44 0.88 0.85
Games Remaining 15 14 7
Expected Points 7 12 6
Again the Oilers should, based on the results this season, expect to put up another 25 points this season; giving them a total of 58 for the year. Maybe a run of good goaltending will be enough to get them past 62. Maybe Hall will really put the pedal down now that he's been left off of Team Canada, dragging this team to 63 points and beyond. Or maybe the Oilers will trade good players for more bullets at the deadline and this team will manage to be much worse that I ever thought they could be.
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