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Simulation and the NHL playoffs

Growing up in Winnipeg, Canada (city motto: “At least it is a dry cold”), I had a short and rather forgettable hockey career (though getting a shutout as a goalie at 12 years old remains one of my favorite memories). I have been greatly outdone by my nephew Mathieu, who actually looks like he knows what he is doing when facing a shot. Since then, I follow hockey mainly through my local team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. I have been lucky to see a number of amazing players on the Penguins: Lemieux, Jagr, and “Sid the Kid” Crosby perhaps best of all. I keep hoping to provide the schedule for the NHL, which I think is the only thing that would impress my buddies back in Winnipeg.

Armann Ingolfsson of the University of Alberta has appeared in an article in the Toronto Sun on using simulation to predict who will make the playoffs this year. You can read a more detailed description of what he does in an article published in the INFORMS Transactions on Education in 2004. The main idea is to use simulation to generate 500 possible continuations of the regular season and to determine how often every team makes the playoffs. A critical feature of this is the ability to assign probabilities of wins for every game.

I am very happy to see that the Penguins currently have a 92% chance of making the playoffs. But the system doesn’t take into account that Crosby has a “high ankle sprain” keeping him out for two months.  That might knock off a percentage point or two.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Johnny Mulder | January 26, 2008 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    WOW!
    I live in Phoenix and our sity motto is: ” at least it’s a dry heat”. Small but different world.
    Hockey is really “catching on” here in the desert. Can’t wait to see how your system works. We’re close to Las Vegas!

  2. Rangers Fan | February 16, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure the penguins will still make the playoffs with crosby out for 2 months. In my opinion that team just has it in them to win at this point. I don’t know if the same can be said about my Rangers though…

  3. Robert Hernreich | March 1, 2008 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Wait until Vegas gets their hands on this information. It could be the future of bookmaking. Go Penguins!

  4. Ryan Fredds | March 8, 2008 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    My friend is from Calgary and nothing comes between him and his hockey.