Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Close We've Come

Brace yourselves, dear readers, because this is probably the best work I've ever done. The Flyers may or may not be hitting their peak as the playoffs approach, but I certainly am.

Now that the Flyers are officially in the playoffs, I figured it's high time to look to the past to try to find the algorithms, decipher the codes of past results to figure out exactly how well the Flyers will do in the playoffs this year.

Looking at data of number of playoff games won, playoff series won, and series played each year didn't yield a whole lot of useful results, because the number of rounds and lengths of series in the playoffs has changed a few times since 1968. So I figured the best way to put every year in historical perspective was to look at how close the Flyers came to winning the number of playoff games necessary to win the cup each year as a percentage.

Here's the graph, you should click on it to see it bigger:
And if you're for some reason dying to see the X and Y flipped, here it is sideways:

So what can we glean from this gold mine of information? Several things:
  1. Keeping Momentum is not the Flyers' strong point (What Goes Up Must Come Down Hard). Very rarely have the Flyers followed up success with success (which is different from not improving, see #3). There has only been one stretch in the entire forty season history of the team in which the Flyers were able to put together consecutive seasons of getting 50% or more of the way to the Stanley Cup. That stretch, not surprisingly, was from 1974-76, when the Flyers made the finals three straight seasons. The Flyers have gotten at least 50% of the way to the Stanley Cup (semifinals/Conference Finals) an extremely impressive thirteen times in their forty seasons, almost a third of the time. But only during this one 1974-76 stretch did the Flyers ever manage to put any of those thirteen back to back. This, theoretically, bodes poorly for these 2009 playoffs. But no better time to break the streak than the present.
  2. "Back With a Vengeance" is more than just an advertising slogan (What Comes Down Goes Back Up Big). When the Flyers go a season or more without winning a playoff game but then recover, they're at their most dangerous. In 1973, the Flyers followed up not making the playoffs in 1972 by winning a playoff series for the first time. In 1985, the Flyers followed up two first round sweeps in 1983 and 1984 by making the Stanley Cup Finals. In 1995, after missing the playoffs for five straight seasons from 1990 to 1994, the Flyers got back on track by making the conference finals. And in 2008, the Flyers recovered from finishing dead last in the league in 2007 by making the conference finals. This is a team that knows how to bounce back.
  3. Improvement comes often, rarely stays around. Only three times in their history have the Flyers done better from one year to the next in consecutive seasons. The Flyers improved in both '73 and '74, both '99 and '00, and both '03 and '04. The improvement in 1999 is pretty minor, though, as the Flyers only improved in that they lost their first round series in 1998 in five games, but lost their 1999 first round series in six. I don't think anybody really saw that as a step in the right direction. Never have the Flyers improved three years in a row, though 1973-75 saw the improvement end in '75 only because the Flyers could not have possibly improved on their '74 Cup win--they merely repeated it.
  4. Three Clearly Defined Eras, and now. The years/stretches when the Flyers won zero playoffs games split the history of the team pretty cleanly into three major eras, which can be accurately referred to as the Clarkeian Era, the Poulinian Era, and the LeClairian era, as those three players' stints with the team match up best with the team's runs of consecutive playoff-winning seasons, even if Poulin and LeClair weren't necessarily the faces of the franchise. The pre-Clarke era didn't see much playoff success, and the Richardsian era is too young as of now to really say much about it. I skipped over the lockout season in doing the line, but if it was there there would be a clearer demarcation between the LeClairian and Richardsian eras (with that odd Forsbergian 2006 season in-between).
  5. Problems with this method are that it doesn't differentiate between missing the playoffs and getting swept in the first round, and that games won don't always reflect series won. The Flyers got swept in the first round four times, in 1969, 1971, 1983, and 1984. Getting swept in the first round is much better than missing the playoffs, but looks the same on the graph as the disastrous, cellar dwelling seasons of the early 1990s and 2006-2007. As for the second problem, it's best illustrated by the fact that the graph shows the Flyers as closer to winning the Cup in 2000 and 2004 when they lost in Game 7 of the conference finals than it does in 1976, when they got swept in the Stanley Cup finals.
So there you have it. History says that the Flyers will not be able to repeat their conference finals run of last season this year, but I choose to ignore that information. This is the dawning of the Richardsian Era, boys and girls, in which the Flyers improve every year and Stanley Cups will rain onto the streets of Philadelphia like satellites crashing down to earth. You might want to wear a helmet.


Jill said...

This is a great blog & that was a great post! That line graph was probably one of the only ones I actually enjoyed looking at. Nice. (:

Chuck said...

2002 is what I fear Salmon...the year of Barber...

2002 was the only season since 1997 where we entered the playoffs with our health intact...we also stumbled some down the stretch, and looked very bogged down offensively in spite of our talent.

We need to show something here in the next couple games to restore my faith, otherwise our postseason fate (particularly early) could be determined by who we get seeded against.