This year’s NHL playoffs – A once in eight lifetimes occurrence

The NHL playoffs are here. For most hockey fans, it’s an exciting time of year. Watching your favourite player(s) raise their intensity and elevate their game(s) is always a fun experience. I must admit, I don’t watch as keenly as I used to. A busy schedule and a formidable list of tax returns to prepare is likely the cause. That said, I think there is another, perhaps more emotional, reason I’m not as invested this year… and that is the fact that not a single Canadian-based NHL team made the playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong – as a hockey fan, I prefer to watch a good game over a local game. Further, I have a few friends, plus a handful of clients, who play in the NHL so I can (and of course will) watch and cheer for them. Still, something seems to be missing this year.

As a financial planner, much of my job is analytical. Dealing with numbers on a daily basis (which can be a blessing and a curse) leads me to think about things in a way that others may not. After reading about how low the NHL playoff television ratings have been thus far, and the author’s hypothesis that the root cause is an absence of Canadian-based NHL teams in the playoffs, I decided to do some number crunching. Specifically, I wanted to know just how rare a year this is. In other words, I wanted to know the odds of seven specific teams missing the postseason in a thirty-team league, when sixteen of the league’s teams make it to the show.

To answer this question, one has to understand the odds of a parlay, that is, how to compound the odds of multiple events on top of one another. Calculating the odds of more than one event happening is relatively simple. One simply multiplies the odds of each independent event by each other. For example, if the chances of one event happening is 1 in 3, and the odds of a second event happening is 1 in 4, then the odds of both events happening is 1 in 12 (1/3 x 1/4).

For those of you who don’t know, the NHL is comprised of thirty teams – seven of which are based in Canada (the remaining twenty-three are based in the U.S.). Of these thirty teams, sixteen make the playoffs. So even on the surface, it seems like a rare occurrence for all seven Canadian teams to miss the postseason (hockey fans will know this…. others may not… in the hockey world, we use the terms ‘playoffs’ and ‘postseason’ interchangeably).

Back to our Canadian-based NHL teams. Four of them play in the NHL’s Western conference (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg), and three of them play in the league’s Eastern conference (Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal). There are fourteen teams in the Western conference and sixteen teams in the Eastern conference. Eight teams make the playoffs from each conference (for the aforementioned total of sixteen). So, here we go with the odds…

The chances of a single team missing the playoffs out West are smaller (because there are fewer teams, and the same number of playoff slots available). With eight of fourteen teams making the playoffs, the odds of missing the playoffs are 6/14. Now, we have to remember to adjust the odds for each subsequent and independently considered team, because if one team misses the post season, there is a greater chance of their neighbour ‘getting in’.

So, the chances of a second team missing the playoffs would be 5/13 (one of the ‘playoff missing slots’ would be already occupied by the first team. Thus, if we want to know the parlay odds of all four Western conference Canadian teams missing the playoffs, the calculation would be as follows:

6/14 x 5/13 x 4/12 x 3/11

In the Eastern conference, the chances of the three given Canadian teams missing the playoffs would be as follows:

8/16 x 7/15 x 6/14

Hopefully I haven’t confused anyone yet, because there is one final step. We must now combine (multiply) all these fractions together. Doing so will show us the actual, mathematical chances of all seven Canadian-based teams missing the playoffs:

(6/14 x 5/13 x 4/12 x 3/11) x (8/16 x 7/15 x 6/14), which equals a staggering 0.001498501, or more simply put….. 1 in 667.33!

You read that correctly. The pure, mathematical odds of all seven Canadian-based NHL teams missing the playoffs is an astounding 1 in 667! That is an event that we can expect to happen once every eight lifetimes!

Now that we’re all shocked, awed, and straight-up disappointed, let’s take a step back. Pure mathematics do not consider intangibles, such as economics, coincidental re-builds, or even Montreal losing the best goalie in the world, for five months, due to injury. The list of reasons we had such a lackluster year here in Canada goes on, but I think you get the point.

Nonetheless, there are a few ‘saving graces’. Firstly, Detroit (who made the playoffs, but were eliminated last night) are an honorary Canadian team. After all (and not withstanding the fact that Windsor, Ontario is a three-wood away from the Red Wings’ home arena), Detroit is’Hockeytown’. Secondly, I have heard that there are upwards of 250,000 Canadians living in both greater New York and greater Los Angeles, both of which have teams still playing (two teams, in each city, in point of fact). Thirdly, Canadian snowbirds have all but adopted the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers – both of whom earned their ticket this season. Lastly, (and thank you to my sample blog audience for pointing this out – every one of you did so!) the NHL is still mostly comprised of Canadian players. At last check, just over 50% of all 750 NHL players who set foot on the ice for at least one shift during the NHL season, were either born, or grew up in, Canada. That tells me we still have the deepest pool of hockey talent in the world.

So at the end of the day, let’s take a step back and enjoy what we have. There’s lots to cheer about here in Toronto, including great, non-local hockey, rock-solid baseball and basketball teams, and – most importantly – the near-end of another tax season!

Personable and professional, Brent Soucie specializes in cross-border tax and financial planning for U.S. citizens and/or Green Card holders residing in Canada, as well as Canadian residents with U.S. employment and/or property. His clients include professional athletes, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives.

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