Last years Oilers schedule was brutal. Within a few weeks of the start of the season, the Oilers had played notably more games than almost any other team, and that differential stayed with the team until close to the last week of the season. Mind you, maybe the extended rest periods at the end of the season would have been great for a playoff-bound team, but, well, you know …
So now that the 2016-2017 schedule is released, is history about to repeat itself?
It’s a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race
Running the Numbers
To quantify the Oilers schedule last year, I took the season matchups and calculated how often the Oilers had played less, the same, or more games than their opponents. I’m calling this the pace of the schedule. It looked like this:
Out of 82 games, the Oilers
- Had played more games than their opponent 56 times
- Had played the same number of games as their opponent 23 times
- Had played fewer games than their opponent just 3 times
This should immediately look a little fishy to you.
Since all teams start the season within a couple of days of each other, and all teams finish the season within a couple of days of each other, and there’s over 200 days in a season, you’d expect to see lots of variation in the schedules, but you’d also expect it to mostly balance out.
Or to put it another way, the average 82 game schedule for the average team should result in a breakdown that looks something like 27 less, 28 same, 27 more.
Natural variation means you’d obviously see a range of values around this 27/28/27 split, with some teams better off than others. But FIFTY SIX vs THREE? That pie is full of feces, no matter how you slice it. As far as pace of schedule goes, the Oilers had it worse than any other team. Next closest were the Blue Jackets.
The question many Oiler fans will have is whether that played a part in the Oilers’ league-leading injury rates. We can’t say for sure – but I can’t help but think it played at least some small part anyway. Eye balling the ‘man games lost’ data for the NHL it does indeed look like the teams with a rapid pace in their schedule tended to be a little to the right (injured) side of the chart, and teams with a slower pace of schedule tended to be a little to the left (healthy) side of the chart*.
*I’d prefer to run a regression to estimate the formal relationship, but the formal MGL data is by subscription only, so in the immortal sort-of words of Sublime, an eyeball “is what I got, now remember that”.
With that said, I know a number of Oilers fans who breathed a sigh of relief (I know I did) when the 2016-2017 schedule came out, and super-visualizer and ultra-smart-guy Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com) tweeted out the following chart, showing that the Oilers might very well have the easiest schedule in the league next season:
What a surprise! Things are going our way for once!
Hmmm, but hang on. Isn’t this telling us a completely different thing? This is a chart showing when a team has played the night before vs being rested. It’s a measure of short term fatigue, while the pace of the schedule is a driver of long-term fatigue.
Sure enough, if we look at last years short term fatigue chart, we see the same thing. By that measure, the Oilers schedule was also easy:
It’s fine to say you are ‘rested’ if the other team played the night before and you haven’t. But if you’ve already played four or five more games than the other team this season (as happened five times to the Oilers), I’m not so sure that matters much.
So let’s do an apples to apples look at the two seasons. This time I’m going to use a chart called a histogram for the comparison. The advantage of doing it this way is that it not only shows how many games were unbalanced, but it also shows by how much.
A ‘fair’ chart for a team would:
- have a peak in the middle at zero – meaning most games, the other guy will have played the same number of games
- be relatively even on either side of that peak – meaning the number of times this team has played more games than the other guy is about the same as the number of times the team has played fewer games than the other guy
A chart that is heavier towards the right means a tougher schedule, and a chart that is slanted towards the left means an easier schedule. Here’s the chart of the Oilers 2015-2016 schedule:
Yup. We got the sh*t kicked out of us schedule-wise. Even Ted Cruz doesn’t lean that far right. And here’s next years schedule:
OK, there’s good news – it’s not as bad as last year! By my numbers, we are now at 44 games more, 29 games the same, and 9 games less. So there’s been a definite shift to the good. But it still sucks.
The Favoured Child
If the Oilers are treated like crap by the league’s schedulers for two years in a row, who might be the beneficiary? Duh. if anyone, it’s going to be Toronto, right? So let’s look at the Leafs chart for the two seasons.
Yup, there you go. Both schedules lean to the left. How appropriate … the schedule makes it easier for the Leafs to Wynne games. The Leafs schedule is one of the easiest in the league both years when compared to the average – and extremely so when compared to the Oilers.
Now if I’m being honest, this result could very well arise from coincidence and bad luck. It really could. Someone’s gotta have a lousy schedule, and others have easier schedules, and two years in a row is most assuredly not a trend.
But that assumes no malice or bias on the part of the league. I’m not sure I’m willing to assume the best of this league. Are you?
Where to from Here?
Well, the schedule *is* a little easier. Let’s hope that’s enough to keep our Oilers a wee bit healthier than they were last year.
And maybe it’s time for Katz to send a little sumthin’ sumthin’ to the schedulers office, just in case those guys really do have a beef with the Mighty Oil.
If there’s one thing about the schedule that will put a smile on Oiler fans faces, it is this: last year, the Flames had an average to easy pace of schedule. This year, they have the second ugliest pace of schedule in the league (only Winnipeg’s schedule is nastier). Check it out:
Do you feel sorry for them?
Yeah, me neither.
You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last…
For those interested, I’ve put the table showing the more/same/less numbers for all teams for both seasons in the chart below.
These numbers certainly will help to bolster the argument of those who think the league is biased against Western Canadian teams (or maybe even non-Ontario teams). Sure, it was CBJ that had the second toughest schedule last year – but they have the easiest schedule this year. EDM was toughest last year, CGY and WPG get slammed this year. In general, non-Ontario teams seem to be mostly on the high side of this list.
If I squint just right, and put on my tinfoil hat, I’m sure I can cook up a conspiracy or two!
The lyrics in italics are from the song Marathon, by (naturally) Rush.