We all knew when the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2013 NHL season began that some borderline team would qualify for the postseason by going on a hot streak it would have had difficulty sustaining over a full 82-game campaign. We just didn't know which team it would be. As it turns out, it looks as if that team is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There are objective ways to identify which teams fought their way up the standings with improved play and which ones rode the wings of good fortune. Hockey is a game of tremendous skill, but luck can have an almost equal bearing on the actual outcomes, even over an entire 82-game schedule.
It normally takes 73 games for the impact of a team's skill to exceed the impact luck can have on the standings, according to a January study by Phil Birnbaum. And even if postseason play is ignored, luck still accounts for 38 percent of the final standings over an 82-game schedule, according to a 2010 study by Gabriel Desjardins.
Even in an 82-game schedule, there are usually still a couple of teams that stay hot just long enough to slip past superior teams and qualify for the playoffs, a feat that becomes far easier in a season that ends after just 48 games. In contrast, some talented teams that slump -- or start clicking too late -- suffer from a shortened schedule.
Because some teams have made sustainable improvements or drop-offs, identifying the teams helped or hurt by the truncated schedule isn't as simple as figuring out which have made the highest climb or lowest drop in the standings but rather is a matter of finding out which made those moves based on the greatest disparities in terms of shots on goal/shooting percentage, puck possession and save percentage.