With the Colorado Avalanche being recently eliminated from the playoffs, the focus turns to looking at what went wrong and whether the Avs can consolidate and improve on their performance this year.
In particular, I decided to consider the performance of NHL teams where a team had made the playoffs after a playoff drought of one or more years and their performance the year after they had made the playoffs. While this analysis is certainly not perfect, hopefully, it can give us a quick idea of how teams in the Avs current position have gone and what their performance looked like the following season.
This analysis covers the period from the 1993-1994 season (this being the season when the NHL adopted the playoff system which was used up until this season) to present.
Breaking the Playoff Drought
Over this period, there were 78 instances of teams making the playoff's after a drought of one or more years. The results of these teams are as follows:
- 48 (or 62%) of teams were eliminated in the first round;
- 13 (or 17%) of teams were eliminated in the conference semi-finals;
- 10 (or 13%) of teams were eliminated at the conference finals; and
- 7 (or 9%) of teams played in the Stanley Cup finals.
So, what does this tell us?
Most importantly, it tells us that a team making the playoffs after a drought is more likely to be eliminated in the first round than a team that has made the playoffs for two or more years in a row. This result is largely unsurprising and tells us, while upsets still happen, that success in the playoffs is not completely random - as if it were, we would expect only 50% of teams coming off of a playoff drought to be eliminated in the first round.
Pretender or Contender
In the year after breaking the playoff drought, the results are significantly different, with:
- 18 (or 25%) of teams being eliminated in the first round;
- 13 (or 18%) of teams were eliminated in the conference semi-finals;
- 4 (or 8%) of teams were eliminated at the conference finals;
- 6 (or 8%) of teams played in the Stanley Cup finals; and
- 31 (or 43%) of teams not making the playoffs for consecutive years.
It becomes clear that, in the year after a playoff appearance, there is significant chance that you are not going to make a return appearance to the playoffs. An example of this would be the 2009-2010 Colorado Avalanche, who were aided by career years from Craig Anderson (7 shutouts) and Brandon Yip (23 points in 37 games, with 39 points in the five years since).
But by the same account, if you do make the playoffs again, your chance of escaping the first round goes up from 38% to 56%. This analysis largely holds if you only consider teams that were bounced in the first round the previous season (with a 54% chance of winning a first round series). The best possible example of this would be the leap that was taken by the Avs in their inaugural season.
So, the question becomes whether the current iteration of the Avs are going to immediately make the leap to repeated playoff appearances (and hopefully, with it, playoff success), or given the average defence, the potential growing pains of our young stars, that perennial playoff contention is still a couple of years off? For now, all we can do is guess.