Can the first month predict final standings?

I'm usually of the opinion that you can't be totally doom and gloom about a team until around Christmas time. At that point, a team's usually played enough of the season that you can identify trends and habits -- and things don't usually change too much, even with major shakeups like coaching dismissals.

However, the one month mark is still significant in that you have a fairly reasonable sample size to see how this team comes together. Habits are starting to form and patterns are starting to become evident, which means that some people get that pit of dread in their stomach when they watch their team take the ice. How did last year's one-month records compare to the final season outcome? Well, thanks to the magic of Excel, I've compiled those numbers and taken a look.

The table below's win/loss/SOL record is all based on the month of October. The Month % column looks at percentage of possible points in a month, so basically the total points divided by two points per game. The Season column is the final points standings from the 2009-10 season, and the Season % column is the percentage of possible total points (points/164, or two potential points over 82 games). Diff is the important column, as it compares the point percentage from the first month to the season. I've bolded teams that have had a difference of more than 10%.

Hit the jump and see if you can play Puck-stradomos based on one month of the NHL season.

Team Win Loss SOL GP Points Month % Season Season % Diff
 Anaheim Ducks 4 6 2 12 10 0.416666667 89 0.542683 0.126016
 Atlanta Thrashers 5 4 1 10 11 0.55 83 0.506098 -0.0439
 Boston Bruins 6 5 1 12 13 0.541666667 91 0.554878 0.013211
 Buffalo Sabres 8 2 1 11 17 0.772727273 100 0.609756 -0.16297
 Calgary Flames 7 4 1 12 15 0.625 90 0.54878 -0.07622
 Carolina Hurricanes 2 7 3 12 7 0.291666667 80 0.487805 0.196138
 Chicago Blackhawks 8 4 1 13 17 0.653846154 112 0.682927 0.029081
 Colorado Avalanche 10 2 2 14 22 0.785714286 95 0.579268 -0.20645
 Columbus Blue Jackets 6 5 1 12 13 0.541666667 79 0.481707 -0.05996
 Dallas Stars 6 3 5 14 17 0.607142857 88 0.536585 -0.07056
 Detroit Red Wings 5 4 3 12 13 0.541666667 102 0.621951 0.080285
 Edmonton Oilers 7 6 1 14 15 0.535714286 62 0.378049 -0.15767
 Florida Panthers 4 7 1 12 9 0.375 77 0.469512 0.094512
 Los Angeles Kings 8 4 2 14 18 0.642857143 101 0.615854 -0.027
 Minnesota Wild 5 9 0 14 10 0.357142857 84 0.512195 0.155052
 Montreal Canadiens 7 7 0 14 14 0.5 88 0.536585 0.036585
 Nashville Predators 6 6 1 13 13 0.5 100 0.609756 0.109756
 New Jersey Devils 8 4 0 12 16 0.666666667 103 0.628049 -0.03862
 New York Islanders 4 4 5 13 13 0.5 79 0.481707 -0.01829
 New York Rangers 8 5 1 14 17 0.607142857 87 0.530488 -0.07666
 Ottawa Senators 4 6 1 11 9 0.409090909 94 0.573171 0.16408
 Philadelphia Flyers 6 4 1 11 13 0.590909091 88 0.536585 -0.05432
 Phoenix Coyotes 9 4 0 13 18 0.692307692 107 0.652439 -0.03987
 Pittsburgh Penguins 11 3 0 14 22 0.785714286 101 0.615854 -0.16986
 San Jose Sharks 9 4 1 14 19 0.678571429 113 0.689024 0.010453
 St. Louis Blues 5 6 1 12 11 0.458333333 90 0.54878 0.090447
 Tampa Bay Lightning 4 3 4 11 12 0.545454545 80 0.487805 -0.05765
 Toronto Maple Leafs 1 7 4 12 6 0.25 74 0.45122 0.20122
 Vancouver Canucks 7 7 0 14 14 0.5 103 0.628049 0.128049
 Washington Capitals 8 2 3 13 19 0.730769231 121 0.737805 0.007036

 

What does this tell us? About a third of NHL teams (nine total) had their performance change by 10% or more, and most of those teams were on the positive side. The ones that dipped had killer starts that they simply couldn't keep up. Here's the more interesting number: if you take in all of the changes, the average is 0.09, or 9%. That means that on average, there's a significant swing one way or the other -- however, you can see that for the teams that had bad starts, it usually means that it wasn't enough to overcome the hole they dug themselves in the beginning.

The trick, then, is if you have a bad first month, you essentially need to claw your way back to .500 by around mid-December to still have a fighting chance. If your points percentage is just awful for the first month, being mediocre with spurts of good won't get you anywhere.

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