When things get tough, the tough gets going. If we apply this quote to ice hockey, the tough gets going when the playoffs start. The nice thing, or the bad one up to you, of this sport is that the post-season is decisive and all in all it doesn’t really matter what happens during the regular season.
The teams, anyway, face each other during the regular season with the aim of reaching the best possible table position in view of the playoffs. But does it really make sense to fight hard in order to finish the regular season in the upper part of the table? Wouldn’t it be better to “conserve the strength” and do the minimum possible only to finish in the top 8?
Yes and no. It’s true that when the playoffs start, a whole new season start. And yet, it’s still an advantage to finish the regular season in the upper part of the table. It’s a psychological advantage, first of all, as teams that do well during the regular season start the playoffs with more self-confidence. But this is no guarantee of success. So, let’s see if it’s really worth finishing the regular season as league leaders!
The following chart shows the table position at the end of the regular season of the winners of the title. Data includes the playoffs era, from 1985-86 until today.
The impression is that in the first few years of the playoffs era it was more important to finish the regular season in the upper part of the table. It must also be said, however, that the National League wasn’t as balanced as today back in the 80s and 90s.
Let’s see, anyway, how many times teams won the title in the playoffs-era based on their table position at the end of the regular season.
Teams that finish the regular season as league leaders won the title 44% of the time. Almost one time out of two. Which is, not bad at all. The teams that finish second placed have already half of the chances to win the title.
It’s interesting then to note, that if you finish the regular season between the 3rd and 7th place on the table you have more or less the same chances to become Swiss champion!
Instead, life seem to be difficult for the teams that finish the regular season 8th placed.
Let’s see now the situation if we take only this century into consideration, that is the last 20 seasons.
League leaders at the end of the regular season are still advantaged. But in the last 20 years, also the teams that finish the regular season 2nd placed have good chances to win the title. Instead, it seems like there is no deal to make for the teams that finish the regular season 3rd placed. We mean, Zug, ZSC Lions, Genève Servette, Davos and Lausanne are warned… they should do everything they can in order to avoid the third position 🙂
Anyway, what does to finish the regular season as league leaders guarantee? In fact, this guarantees you nothing. In the playoffs-era, however, the team that finished the regular season at the top of the table at least made it to the final in 75% of the cases. Let’s see…
So, the team that finished the regular season at the top of the table then made it all the way to the final in 76% of the cases. The teams that instead finished the regular season second placed, made it all the way to the final in 62% of the cases.
At this point, it’s interesting to stress that the teams that finished the regular season 6th, 7th and 8th placed… and then made it all the way to the final, always won the title. It happened 5 times out of 5 which is actually a lot! We mean, there is some hope to dream big for those teams that are now battling in order to make the playoffs and will finish the regular season between the 6th and 8th place.
So, to sum up. Teams that finish the regular season in the upper part of the table are stronger and it’s no accident that they have more chances to make it all the way to the final and win the title. Yet, teams that make the playoffs at the last gasp… still have hopes. This is also part of the reason why this sport is so fantastic 🙂