Caution for Capitals: “Bubble teams” usually don’t go far in the playoffs


It is an unfamiliar situation for Washington, which has not seen any real uncertainty when it comes to its playoff hopes in recent years.

“I think it is good battling going in,” said Jason Chimera. “You realize how hard it is to get in [the playoffs]. We kind of knew we were in since January a lot of times in the past couple seasons. It is a good thing for our team.”

It sounds plausible that a team going through adversity — specifically, fighting its way in to the playoffs — makes it more “battle tested” and thus increases its chances at playoff success. However, that is more narrative than fact.

If we look at post-lockout teams that were on the bubble for a playoff spot, defined here as within five points of the eight seed (both ahead and behind) as of March 1st, 34 of the 77 (44 percent) did not qualify for the post-season.

 Of the 43 teams that did qualify, 24 failed to make it out of round one and another 12 didn't make it past round two. That means almost 84 percent of those teams have not made it past the Conference semifinals. Hardly the (familiar) result Washington is looking for.

 The lone Cup winner from this group of "bubble teams" is the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins, who fired coach Michel Therrien after 57 games and replaced him with Dan Bylsma. However, that team had a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin, two of the games best players at the time, making it more the exception than the rule.

 The best success came from those who were at least 12 points ahead of the eighth seed once March started, with four of the past six champions coming from this group. And as you can see, teams with this type of cushion also tend to go farther in the playoffs than those without.

 In other words, yes, a lot needs to go right to win a Cup in the post-lockout era, but it all starts with making sure there is no question that you will be in the playoff picture.


Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.

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