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# Draw The Line

by Van Oler / Chicago Blackhawks
Blackhawk Playoff Ambitions Begin in October, not March

Johnny Cash walked one; President Bush (the Elder) drew one in the sand; and Mario Mendoza has one named after him.

What is a line, Alex?

As baseball fans are aware, the ‘Mendoza Line’ is shorthand for a .200 batting average, which serves as the threshold separating mere mediocrity from outright incompetence. That legacy is not entirely fair to 'Not-So-Super' Mario, who actually had a .215 career batting average over portions of nine Major League seasons.

The corresponding line in the NHL is bold and unambiguous. At the end of the regular season it is drawn to separate the eight playoff teams from those that are free to concentrate on golf. Over the last five seasons in the Western Conference, that line has been drawn between 91 points in 2003-04 and 96 last season.

If recent trends continue, the Blackhawks can be reasonably certain of a playoff spot if they accumulate 96 points during the 82 regular-season games. The math becomes interesting. Divide the points required by the number of games and you'll see the team must average 1.17 standings points per game. Thus, a straight line on a graph shows how many points the Hawks should have at any point during the season to be on pace to finish with 96.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to know that going eight straight games without a win isn’t good news for a team. The black line in the graph simply verifies what fans knew intuitively last fall: the Hawks fell below the NHL “Mendoza Line” during the gruesome eight-game losing streak between October 20 and November 10 and simply never recovered.

The numbers tell another interesting story: because a team needs to average more than one point a game to reach 96, it would have taken more than an eight-game winning streak to undo the damage done by the eight-game losing streak (one of the losses was in a shootout, so the Hawks did earn one point in those eight games).

The schedule through 2007 is quite favorable to the Hawks and their efforts to stay above the line. The annual ‘circus trip’ features only three far west games this season as opposed to the usual five or six, and after they return from the coast they have 11 home games and just three road games to finish the year.

In an effort to maintain morale, teams that start a season poorly often remind themselves that ‘it’s early.’ Such reminders can probably be heard in the locker rooms in Atlanta and Los Angeles right now. However, recovering from a slow start requires more than just a bunch of victories; it requires that teams above you cooperate by losing their games too.

That’s one of the reasons it is important to stay above the line early in the year; it allows a team to control its own fate by simply playing its own schedule.

Van Oler is a freelance writer and Blackhawks fan who grew up in Wheaton, IL and currently resides in Cincinnati, OH. He is a regular contributor to chicagoblackhawks.com.

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