Probabilities: How Long Could the Playoff Drought Last?

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The New Jersey Devils are poised to miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. It’s the first time this has happened since the franchise relocated to New Jersey in 1982, and had to wait until 1988 for their first berth. In addition, the Devils are also set to finish with their lowest point totals since tallying 66 in 1988-1989. Simply put, these are certainly dark times. Having said that, there’s still a sliver of the regular season to get through before the offseason begins, and an entire playoff tournament where Devils fans will have to watch other teams compete for the Stanley Cup.

The Devils have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons. -Yahoo Sports

At this time of year, it’s become common practice for Devils fans to ponder when their team will return to the playoffs. While many acknowledge that the organization is in the midst of a thorough rebuild, a lot of fans are growing impatient, despite acknowledging the retooling process technically began when Shero was first hired.

If the Devils continue at the rate they’re going, this will be the organization’s first top-five draft selection since their playoff drought began. It’s just one of many examples on how this season has established a new low point for the Devils. The question is whether they’ll descend further, plateau (which is just as bad), or begin to rebound. If statistical odds and recent histories of teams (that were in the same position as New Jersey) are any indication, they could provide us with some keen insight on what direction the organization is headed.

The two charts below show the 26th-30th overall teams at the end of the last six seasons, and the teams who selected 1st-5th overall in the last six drafts.

 

*Bold indicates the team made the playoffs the following season

26th-30th Overall (2011-2016)

Teams 2015-2016 2014-2015 2013-2014 2012-2013 2011-2012 2010-2011
26 Calgary Carolina NY Islanders Carolina Toronto Ottawa
27 Columbus Toronto Calgary Nashville NY Islanders NY Islanders
28 Vancouver Edmonton Edmonton Tampa Bay Montreal Florida
29 Edmonton Arizona Florida Colorado Edmonton Colorado
20 Toronto Buffalo Buffalo Florida Columbus Edmonton

1st-5th Overall Draft Selectors (2011-2016)

Teams 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
5th Vancouver Carolina NY Islanders Carolina Toronto NY Islanders
4th Edmonton Toronto Calgary Nashville NY Islanders New Jersey
3rd Columbus Arizona Buffalo Tampa Bay Montreal Florida
2nd Winnipeg Buffalo Edmonton Florida Columbus Colorado
1st Toronto Edmonton Florida Colorado Edmonton Edmonton

 

11 teams that finished bottom five in points in the last six years went on to make the playoffs the following season. 15 different teams finished bottom-five in points over the last six seasons. Nine of those teams have finished among the five-lowest point totals in the league two or more times (Isles, Panthers, Avalanche, Oilers, Leafs, Jackets, Hurricanes, Flames, Sabres). 12 teams that selected 1st-5th overall in the last six NHL Entry Drafts went on to make the playoffs the following season. 16 different teams selected 1st-5th overall in the last six drafts, with eight of them (Isles, Panthers, Avalanche, Oilers, Leafs, Jackets, Hurricanes, Sabres) drafting in that range more than once.

The Devils are currently projected to make a top-five selection in the NHL Entry Draft. -Getty Images

If these numbers are any indication, this might not be the first time New Jersey picks in this range, or finish bottom-five in points over the next couple of years. Their elimination from playoff contention has made New Jersey the third team in the Eastern Conference with an active playoff drought of five or more years. The next chart shows the number of playoff appearances among Eastern Conference teams from 2006-2016, along with any apparent playoff droughts that lasted more than five consecutive seasons.

 

Y- Team reached playoffs

N- Team missed playoffs

Team

15-16

14-15 13-14 12-13 11-12 10-11 09-10 08-09 07-08 07-06 05-06
ATL/WPG N Y N N N N N N N Y N
BOS N N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N N
BUF N N N N N Y Y N N Y Y
CAR N N N N N N N Y N N Y
CBJ N N Y
DET Y Y Y
FLA Y N N Y Y N N N N N N
MTL N Y Y N N Y Y Y Y Y Y
NJD N N N Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y
NYI Y Y Y Y Y N N N Y Y Y
NYR Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
OTT N Y Y Y Y N Y N Y Y Y
PHI Y N N N N Y Y Y N N Y
PIT Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N
TB Y Y N N N Y N N Y Y Y
TOR N N N N N N N N N N N
WSH Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N

The chart shows that over the past 11 years, five teams (excluding the Devils) in the Eastern Conference have missed the playoffs for five or more consecutive seasons. Based on statistical odds, this would give the Devils a 29% chance of missing the playoffs next year. Having said that, four out of the five teams with playoff droughts lasting more than five seasons missed the postseason for six or more years in a row. Simply put, teams suffering playoff droughts lasting more than five seasons is statistically rare, but when teams have reached that five-year mark, those droughts usually persist into subsequent seasons.

In regards to what this means for the Devils, the odds aren’t quite on their side if historical trends continue. While I will still attest to the belief that the Devils are only two or three solid additions away from becoming a playoff team, the same argument has been made for several of the teams that endured lengthy playoff droughts or finished in the bottom-five in the league in points. Ultimately, time will only tell but if next season holds similar results for the Devils, you can say this piece issued fair warning.

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