Putting the Ottawa Senators’ Required Improvement in Context

The Ottawa Senators need to take a giant leap in the standings if they want to qualify for the playoffs next year. Fans of the team are probably very familiar with the number 27, the margin by which they failed to qualify for last year’s postseason. There is no doubt that the team’s roster will be greatly improved, and anything but a substantial change in position at the end of the season will be a disappointment. Expectations are high in the country’s capital, however: you don’t slide all your chips in the middle like Pierre Dorion did this off-season to miss out on all the fun.

A fun board game for Sens fans to spend the dog days of summer just cut short how exactly, Ottawa can be improved by 27 points. The rationale is usually a combination of the addition of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, and to a lesser extent Jake Sanderson, along with improved health for some of the core players who have missed a lot of time this past season. However, at the time of writing, I haven’t seen anyone try to quantify how likely a 27-point improvement really is. It seems like a big question, and that kind of jump certainly doesn’t happen often, but how often does it actually happen? The answer is that since 2007-08, 15 full NHL seasons, there have been 15 instances where a team improved at least 27 points from the year before. It’s a (huge) table with all the raw data in case you want to go through it yourself:

Team records

YEAR ANA DELIVERY BUNCH BUF CAR CBJ CGY CHIA COLO VALLEY THE EDM FLA LA MIN MTL NJ SOE NYIA New York OTT PHIA PIT SJ STL TB TOR FROM VGK WPG WSH
YEAR ANA DELIVERY BUNCH BUF CAR CBJ CGY CHIA COLO VALLEY THE EDM FLA LA MIN MTL NJ SOE NYIA New York OTT PHIA PIT SJ STL TB TOR FROM VGK WPG WSH
07-08 102 83 94 90 92 80 94 88 95 97 115 88 85 71 98 104 99 91 79 97 94 95 102 108 79 71 83 88 0 76 94
08-09 91 79 116 91 97 92 99 104 69 83 111 85 93 79 89 93 106 88 61 95 83 99 99 117 92 66 81 100 0 76 108
09-10 89 107 91 100 80 79 90 112 95 88 102 62 77 101 84 88 103 100 79 87 94 88 101 113 90 80 74 103 0 83 121
10-11 99 99 103 96 91 81 94 97 68 95 104 62 72 98 86 96 81 99 73 93 74 106 106 105 87 103 85 117 0 80 107
11-12 80 97 102 89 82 65 90 101 88 89 102 74 94 95 81 78 102 104 79 109 92 103 108 96 109 84 80 111 0 84 92
12-13 113 87 106 82 72 94 72 132 67 82 96 77 62 101 94 108 82 70 94 96 96 84 123 97 103 68 97 101 0 87 97
13-14 116 89 117 52 83 93 77 107 112 91 93 67 66 100 98 100 88 88 79 96 88 94 109 111 111 101 84 83 0 84 90
14-15 109 56 96 54 71 89 97 102 90 92 100 62 91 95 100 110 78 104 101 113 99 84 98 89 109 108 68 101 0 99 101
15-16 103 78 93 81 86 76 77 103 82 109 93 70 103 103 87 82 84 96 100 101 85 96 104 98 107 97 69 75 0 77 120
16-17 105 70 95 78 87 108 94 109 48 79 79 103 81 86 106 103 70 94 94 102 98 88 111 99 99 94 95 69 0 87 118
17-18 101 70 112 62 83 97 84 76 95 92 73 78 96 98 101 71 97 117 80 77 67 98 100 100 94 113 105 73 109 114 105
18-19 80 86 107 76 99 98 107 84 90 93 74 79 86 71 83 96 72 100 103 78 64 82 100 101 99 128 100 81 93 99 104
19-20 78 87 117 80 95 95 93 84 108 96 46 97 91 75 90 83 80 91 94 93 73 104 101 74 110 108 95 91 101 94 105
2021 63 79 107 54 117 70 81 81 120 88 70 105 116 72 110 86 66 94 104 88 75 85 113 72 92 110 113 73 120 92 113
21-22 76 57 107 75 116 81 111 68 119 98 74 104 122 99 113 55 63 97 84 110 73 61 103 77 109 110 115 92 94 89 100

Some notes on the data:

  • All seasons are normalized to 82 games so we can compare apples to apples. Where the season was abbreviated, in 2012-13, 2019-20 and 2021, I took the PTS% for each team and calculated their pace pro rata to a full season of 82 games.
  • Improvements are then calculated by looking at the difference for each team from one season to the next. This leaves us with a sample of 425 “improvements”.
  • The thirteen seasons in question: Anaheim Ducks 2012-13, Arizona Coyotes 09-10, Buffalo Sabers 2015-16, Columbus Blue Jackets 2012-13 and 2016-17, Calgary Flames 2021-22, Chicago 2012-13, Colorado Avalanche 2012- 13 and 2017-18, Edmonton Oilers 2016-17, Los Angeles Kings 2021-22, Montreal Canadiens 2012-13, New Jersey Devils 2017-18, Tampa Bay Lightning 2013-14, Winnipeg Jets 2017-18

The good news for Sens fans is that with 15 appearances in 15 seasons, we see an average of one team per year that meets the required threshold. It’s also good news that most of the big improvements have come in the back half of the sample and there were two such cases last year: the Flames and the Kings. It’s far from impossible and it’s actually happening recently!

The bad news is that 15 out of 425 is a meager 3.5% of seasons. It doesn’t happen much. The worse news is that four of the fifteen came during the shortened 2012-13 season, when the standings were particularly chaotic and the sample was definitely the smallest. Maintaining a very big improvement over 82 games is a lot harder than the 48 each team played that season. The actual number is probably closer to 11 out of 394, or 2.8%.

Where are the ambitions of the Ottawa senators for 2022-23? Firmly in the realm of possible but highly unlikely – but perhaps that makes what comes next all the sweeter.

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