The NHL regular season is winding down and teams are streaking towards the playoffs. Much of the talk we will hear will be about “momentum heading into the playoffs.” Some variant of that phrase will be spoken by fans, writers, analysts, insiders, some players and coaches. Winning as many games or getting as many points as possible in the latter stages of the season is the goal. Presumably, the team that does this will have “momentum heading into the playoffs.” Is there a correlation between a strong finish and playoff success for the Flyers?
“Playoff success” will be defined as a deep playoff run to either the Conference Finals or Stanley Cup Finals. The “latter stages of the season” will be regular season games played in the months of March and April. These two factors should determine any correlation between “momentum heading into the playoffs” and postseason success for the Flyers. For consistency, only the “modern era” of the NHL playoffs will be used for this analysis. Starting with the 1986-1987 season the NHL expanded the first round from best-of-five to the current best-of-seven series.
Analyzing The Numbers
Since the 1986-1987 season the Flyers have qualified for the playoffs in 21 out of 30 completed seasons. In that time the Flyers have advanced as far as the Conference Quarterfinals 9 times. They have advanced as far as the Conference Semifinals 4 times. The Flyers have advanced as far as the Conference Finals 5 times. They have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals 3 times in that span.
In the 21 seasons since 1986-1987 that the Flyers have qualified for the playoffs they have an overall record in regular season games played in March/April of 215-144-76. They have an acquired points percentage of 66.9% in those seasons.
In the nine season in which they only made it as far as the Conference Quarterfinals (1988, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2014, 2016) the Flyers have a March/April record of 88-77-30. They have a late season acquired points percentage of 60.5% in those nine seasons.
In the four seasons in which they only made it as far as the Conference Semifinals (1996, 2003, 2011, 2012) the Flyers have a March/April record of 46-20-14. They have a late season acquired points percentage of 75.0% in those four seasons.
In the five seasons in which they made it as far as the Conference Finals (1989, 1995, 2000, 2004, 2008) the Flyers have a March/April record of 54-26-19. They have a late season acquired points percentage of 73.7% in those five seasons.
In the three seasons in which they made it as far as the Stanley Cup Finals (1987, 1997, 2010) the Flyers have a March/April record of 27-21-13. They have a late season acquired points percentage of 65.6% in those three seasons.
There is a strong positive correlation between finishing the season relatively weakly and not advancing deep into the playoffs. The Flyers have ten seasons in which they had a late season acquired points percentage of 68.1% or lower. In eight of those seasons they failed to advance beyond the Conference Quarterfinals. The most notable exception would be the 2009-2010 team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. That season the Flyers only managed to acquire points in 54.5% of their regular games in March/April. That ranks as the 4th lowest percentage of their 21 playoff seasons included in this analysis.
So, is there a correlation between finishing the season strong and playoff success for the Flyers? The answer: not really, or at least not as strong of a correlation as many would believe. In their five best seasons in terms of late season acquired point percentage, the Flyers advanced out of the second round only once. In that season (2007-2008), the Flyers finished with a March/April record of 10-4-4 and an acquired points percentage of 77.8%. The Flyers advanced to the Conference Finals that season. This was their second best season in terms of late season acquired point percentage. The only season that ranked better in the last 21 playoff seasons was the 2002-2003 season. That season the Flyers finished 12-3-4 and with an acquired points percentage of 84.2%. The Flyers only made it as far as the Conference Semifinals that season.
Having “momentum heading into the playoffs” by finishing the season strong seems to be more of a need for the fans and those who follow the Flyers than it does the team itself. The perception does not necessarily equal the reality. Playoff momentum has a best case scenario and a worst case scenario; however the reality lies somewhere in between. It is probably best for the Flyers to not go stumbling towards the playoffs, but they also don’t want to peak too soon. The Flyers are currently 0-4-1 in March, but there are plenty of games left to right the ship and make playoff success a reality.
Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports