Can This “Magic Number” Return The Devils To The Playoffs?

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Is there a magic number that an NHL team needs to reach (collectively or among certain players) to ensure making the postseason?

The question dawned on me during a discussion I was having with my fellow DAB writers, where we yet again pondered what it would take (and if it was achievable in one offseason) to get New Jersey back in the playoffs. It’s a subject Devils management, fans, and media have tried wrapping their heads around that nobody has been quite able to answer. While New Jersey certainly aren’t favorites to contend with their current roster, I came across an interesting correlation among the league’s playoff teams since the current division and playoff formats were introduced.

The Devils scored the third-fewest goals in 2016-2017. -Getty Images

Over the last four seasons, the top three scorers on 48 out of the 64 teams that reached the postseason combined for at least 78 goals. Among 56 non-playoff teams over the last four seasons, only 15 reached this threshold. The chart below breaks down how many playoff and non-playoff teams saw their top three scorers combine for at least 78 goals over the last four seasons.

Season

Playoff Teams

(out of 16)

Non-Playoff Teams

(out of 14)

2013-2014

11 3

2014-2015

12

4

2015-2016

12

4

2016-2017 13

4

One statistic the chart doesn’t show that’s worth mentioning: out of the 16 teams that made the playoffs since 2014 whose top three scorers combined for fewer than 78 goals, 11 were eliminated in the first round. Between 2014 and 2017, the top three scorers on each of the last four Devils rosters respectively combined for 66 (2016-2017), 76 (2015-2016), 59 (2014-2015), and 67 (2013-2014) goals. Having said that, most of those Devils teams needed more than their top three players to combine for at least 78 goals- especially last season’s team, who lost 30 out of 54 games by at least two goals.

On the contrary, it seems that teams whose top three scorers meet this threshold, fall into some favorable odds. To translate this statistic- 48 out of 64 playoff teams between 2014 and 2017 whose top three scorers combined to reach that “magic number” into a percentage…an NHL squad has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs if their top three scorers collectively tally at least 78 goals (since 2014).

Can New Jersey’s top three scorers combine for at least 78 goals next season? -Getty Images

With the current Devils roster, it’s really hard to say whether reaching that magic number could propel this team into the playoffs. Between shedding a lot of dead weight in underachieving forwards and their offseason gains, the Devils offense should improve to some extent. New Jersey has forwards capable of collectively reaching this figure- Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Marcus Johansson, and perhaps Nico Hischier who can help New Jersey attain that magic number.

I mentioned in a previous article that the Devils were among the worst teams in shot and goal differentials. If that doesn’t change, it may not matter much if the Devils top three goal scorers hit the magic number of 78. While I’m sure Cory Schneider will be rebound in 2017-18, the Devils will need to improve their defense in order to make substantial gains in their shot and goal differentials or otherwise the magic number may not have any significance.

There is indeed a distinct correlation among NHL teams whose top three goal-scorers reach that magic number, and making the playoffs. Even if New Jersey’s top three scorers reach this threshold next season, it’d be unwise to solely rely on the favorable odds of this particular trend to witness the return of playoff hockey in Newark; at least with the roster’s current qualitative state.

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