For those of us obsessively scoreboard watching in January and February, the last couple of day’s worth of games (San Jose winning twice, Dallas or somebody with the loser point, etc.) might have been a little disheartening. I’ve noticed, in the comments, at least a couple of people fretting about the difficult position the Kings are in now. Meanwhile, I am relatively unbothered. I would have preferred the Sharks go on a losing streak, of course. But I know they’re going to win some games.
The reason I am sleeping better at night than most people is that I don’t look at the official point totals. Well, I look. But I know they are deceptive. In my own “real” standings, I sort the teams not by total points with the official tie-breakers, but by win-percentage and/or points-blown. I’ve been defaulting to W% this season because it takes less explaining, but now we’re in the thick of it, and it’s time to switch over to points-blown.
Points-blown refers to the number of points a team could have earned, but did not. They are points-squandered. You get two PBs for a loss, and one PB for an OT/SOL. The lower your total, the better. Like golf. Or cholesterol.
Why is this a handy way to look at the standings, and not just a confusing pain in the ass? Well, maybe it’s not. Your mileage may vary, but for me it’s like this: W% is an excellent indicator of a team’s record, but I find it difficult to conceptualize the difference between (for example), a .575 team and a .593 team. “All we need is another 18/1000s of a [something or other] and we’ll be tied! Go team!”
But just looking at points doesn’t work either, because the schedule is wacky and teams have different numbers of games-played. Anaheim and Chicago at one point had played 5 or 6 more games than everyone else. That skews the standings. And I hate giving Anaheim any credit.
(And remember last season when the Kings were first in the conference for ten minutes? Everyone went into an ecstatic trance, but I didn’t, because the Kings had played more games than everyone else. Even without a losing streak, they would have come down to earth. I was looking at points-blown, so I had them in the middle of the pack. I don’t want a false sense of security; that’s worse than giving Anaheim any credit.)
Example: a team that’s 20-10-0 is ten official points ahead of a team that’s 15-10-0, but they’ve blown the same number of points (20). I think most of us think something along the lines of “we’re ten points behind with five games in hand.” Points-blown are a way to quantify games-in-hand as one number. And it does this by ignoring wins altogether.
But that’s biased!
It’s biased in a way that I like. Because of an effect known as loss aversion. The idea is that people give more weight to loss than gain. If you find a $100 bill you feel happy. But if you lose a $100 bill, you feel disproportionately miserable. Without addressing the psychological issue of whether or not it’s healthy to give more weight to “loss,” I recognize the fact of loss aversion as a sports fan on a daily basis: losses feel much worse than wins feel good. That’s a terrible sentence, but true.
Just look at the comments sections of your favorite blog (mine is www.lakingsinsider.com), look after a win and then after a loss. After a win, a few dozen comments. After a loss, hundreds. The sky is falling.
And I’ll tell you another nice thing about following points-blown. You know how when your team is idle (as the Kings have been for several days), it’s infuriating to watch teams leapfrog you in the standings just because they’re playing games and you’re not? Well, that NEVER happens in points-blown. Because you can only go up in the standings by not losing when other people lose. If you’re idle, all you can dois go up; you can never go down by not playing. So, for example, over the last four days, with the Kings not playing a single game, and even with the Sharks winning a couple and depressing Kings fans everywhere, the Kings have gone from 9th place to 8th.
I love that.
I don’t mean to suggest that points-blown encourages delusion. I think it’s an accurate way of looking at the standings, that also happens to give losses their true, psychologically-devastating weight.
So, after all that (sorry), here’s where we are today:
Q is my standings, sorted by points-blown. OFF. is the official (ESPN) standings. PRJ is projected point total for 82 games. PB is points-blown. To94 is the record needed to get to the presumed (by me) playoff-threshold. GR is games-remaining. R/OTW is wins plus OT wins (the first tie-breaker). R/OT/SO is the team’s record broken down into wins-losses in regulation/overtime/shoot-out. So, for example, VAN is 31-11 in regulation, 2-4 in OT and 2-5 in the shoot-out. That 31-11 in regulation is just amazing.
- The Kings are two PB behind 4th seed San Jose.
- Eight teams (SJS, NAS, MIN, ANA, LAK, PHX, CHI, STL) are in a cluster separated by 4 points-blown (note that those same teams are 10 official points apart — why? Because SJS, NAS, ANA and PHX have played two more games than MIN and LAK, and three more than STL).
- The Flames, who sit in 8th in the official standings, are in 12th in points-blown. They have three official points more than the Kings, but they have three more points-blown than the Kings. Their lead is an illusion. They are behind.
- The Wild, 9th in the official standings, look much better (6th) in points-blown. They have more games left, and have lost less.
- The Avs, who are falling like a stone, have a W% of .5185, but in regulation they’re 17-23. There’s something wrong with a system where a team that is six games below .500 in regulation is somehow an above-.500 team.
- The blue box. These are the teams I consider to be still in the hunt for a playoff spot. COL is crapping out, but they’re still only 4 points behind the Kings, 5 points out of the playoffs, and eight points-blown from 4th place. It doesn’t seem like they’re going to turn it around, but they could. They’ve got 28 games to play. A lot can happen.
- More blue box: there are eight teams whose “budget for future losses and half-losses” is between 12-2 and 10-2. SJS can afford to blow 26 more points (12 losses, 2 half-losses). The Kings can afford to blow 24 (11 losses and 2 half-losses…or 12 losses and no half-losses, if you prefer — but we all know the OTSOLs happen, which is why I put them in there).
- Anyway, the difference between San Jose and LA is that San Jose can afford one more loss. That’s a very tight race.
- Dallas is outside the blue-box for now, but they’re actually quite reachable. They don’t have an easy schedule either. Don’t be surprised if they drop some.
- Bottom line for LA: 16-11-2 to close out the season. 94 points. 8th seed. Play Vancouver in the first round.
- Okay, maybe we should shoot for a couple more points…