How many teams will each conference put in the playoffs (and is the NCHC really underperforming?)

There has been a lot of discussion about the NCHC seemingly having a down year based on its current poor performance in the Pairwise Rankings. A comment by Goon on a different blog asked whether Hockey East and ECAC might fall as additional conference play leads them to beat up on each other.

To help assess the NCHC’s performance and answer Goon’s question, I ran simulations of the remaining games and tracked how many teams each conference had in the top 14 at the end of the regular season (a reasonable guess as to the PWR rank that would guarantee an invitation to the NCAA tournament).

First, here is the current distribution of the top 14 PWR ranks by conference:

Number of teams in the top 14 in PWR right now
Atlantic Hockey 0
Big Ten 3
ECAC 3
Hockey East 5
NCHC 2
WCHA 1

Next, ExileOnDaytonStreet on the USCHO Forum calculated each conference’s current members average tournament appearances per year over the past ten years:

Number of members that made that tournament per year
Atlantic Hockey 1.3
Big Ten 3
ECAC 2.3
Hockey East 4.1
NCHC 4.3
WCHA 1

When comparing the numbers across the two tables, keep in mind that the first table only includes the top 14 while the second includes all tournament participants. To directly compare across the two tables, two auto bids that wouldn’t make the tournament at large need to be added to the first table.

Finally, here are the results of the simulations:

chart_1

With 0 teams currently in the top 14 and a historic average of 1.3 in the tournament, AH is about on par as it is almost certain to end with 0 teams in the top 14 so one participant in the tournament as an auto bid.

chart_2

With 3 teams currently in the top 14 and a historic average of 3 in the tournament, the Big Ten is about on par with 2-3 teams in the top 14 a likely finish.

chart_3

With 3 teams currently in the top 14 and an average of 2.3 in the tournament, the ECAC is outperforming with 3-4 teams in the top 14 a likely finish.

chart_4

With 5 teams currently in the top 14 and a historic average of 4.1 in the tournament, Hockey East is about on par to slightly outperforming with 4-5 teams in the top 14 a likely finish.

chart_5

With 2 teams currently in the top 14 and a historic average of 4.3 in the tournament, the NCHC is definitely underperforming with 2 teams in the top 14 a likely finish (though 1 or 3 distinctly possible).

chart_6

With 1 team currently in the top 14 and a historic average of 1 in the tournament, the WCHA is about on par with 1 team in the top 14 a likely finish (though 2 distinctly possible).

The projections are KRACH-weighted, so implicitly assume that teams will continue to perform as they have to date. That helps isolate the specific effects of the remaining schedule. The remaining schedule is not likely to push Hockey East or the ECAC down from their current levels, though individual teams’ performances certainly could.

The conclusion — even if its members outperform and its auto bid goes to a team that wouldn’t qualify at large, the NCHC seems quite likely to finish with a down year relative to its members past performances.