(PDF) Tyrel Russell and Peter van Beek. Determining the Number of Games Needed to Guarantee an NHL Playoff Spot. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Integration of AI and OR Techniques in Constraint Programming for Combinatorial Optimization Problems (CPAIOR 2009), Pittsburgh, 233-247, May, 2009.
Many sports fans invest a great deal of time into watching and analyzing the performance of their favourite team. However, the tools at their disposal are primarily heuristic or based on folk wisdom. This paper provides a concrete mechanism for calculating the minimum number of points needed to guarantee a playoff spot in the National Hockey League (NHL). Along with determining how many games need to be won to guarantee a playoff spot comes the notion of "must win" games. Our method can identify those games where, if a team loses, they no longer control their own playoff destiny. As a side effect of this, we can also identify when teams get lucky and still make the playoffs even though another team could have eliminated them.