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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Do NFL Teams Get Bad Schedules?



Washington Redskins fans, you might not want to hear this.

University at Buffalo engineers, who have done a study on imbalances in the NFL schedule and presented it at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this year, have studied the 2015 NFL schedule that was released this week. One of the main imbalances they look at is which teams get the most games against "rested" opponents – those coming off Thursday night games or bye weeks.

Yep, Washington got the shortest stick in that area.

Washington plays five games against opponents with extra rest this year, the UB engineers said. That's the most in the NFL. The Redskins have three games against teams coming off bye weeks and two games against teams coming off a Thursday game. That's a very high number; it's almost one-third of Washington's schedule.

Other teams shouldn't be too happy either. The Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks each have four games against opponents with extra rest. The New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills (who have frequently gotten imbalanced schedules the past few years), San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs are next at three each.

"We had a detailed look at the 2015, and we see again the imbalances are significant," said Murat Kurt, PhD, an assistant professor in UB’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Some teams should be much happier with their draw. The Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals don't play any games against teams coming off a bye or a Thursday night game.

This all might not seem like much, but it is a disadvantage. In a 16-game season in which playoff spots are almost always determined by just one game or tiebreakers, it's worth noting. When the engineers studied the issue they found that from 2009-13 a team's average winning percentage decreased by 3.77 percent against rested teams. In 2013 it was a decrease of about seven percent.

Rested opponents aren't the only factor UB engineers note. A cluster of divisional games in a row can be inequitable. The Green Bay Packers are the big losers there. From Nov. 15 to Dec. 3 the Packers play four divisional games in a row, something that is very rare.

"Playing four back-to-back divisional games – which are often your toughest because those opponents know you best, they're playing hard and it means the most – is difficult," said Mark Karwan, PhD, Praxair Professor of Operations Research and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor. "They should be spread out."

Another scheduling inequity the Buffalo engineers focused on was at least three road games in a row. Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta got three road games in a row this season. The Bills have five road games in six weeks, a particularly tough stretch.

Travel itself can be unbalanced. Kurt provided the examples of Baltimore and Tennessee. The Ravens have back-to-back trips out west twice during the season; Weeks 1 and 2 at Denver and Oakland and Weeks 6 and 7 at San Francisco and Arizona. Compare that to the Titans. Their first two trips aren't too bad (at Tampa Bay and Cleveland) and then they have a five-week stretch in which they won't leave Nashville. From Week 3 to Week 7 they have four home games and a bye week.

"They don’t leave their home for 5 weeks," Kurt said. "That’s kind of easy."

Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Seattle all have a four-week stretch that includes three home games and a bye.

The schedule will never be entirely fair, but the UB crew of Kurt, Karwan, Niraj Pandey (a PhD candidate in UB’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering), and Kyle Cunningham (earned a bachelor of science degree from UB in 2014), tried to figure out a solution. They came up with the study “Alleviating Competitive Imbalances in NFL Schedules: An Integer-Programming Approach,” and created a mathematical model called a mixed-integer linear program to produce the most fair schedule possible. They're Bills fans, and part of the reason for the study was that the Bills complained about playing many rested opponents. Sure enough, the engineers found that the Bills played more games against rested opponents (26) than any other team from 2002-2014. (For those curious the Bengals have been the most fortunate team in that regard; their 12 games against rested opponents are three fewer than any other NFL team.)

But the NFL has other considerations when making the schedule, most notably television partners and conflicts at stadiums. Even in the UB model, they're unable to eliminate all inequities; Karwan said their model will still have issues like three road games in a row. It's tough to fit a 256-piece puzzle together.

"There will be inequities due to the TV considerations and stadium availability and special requests by teams," Karwan said. "But what they may be able to do is think about these competitive imbalances – and I’m sure they do because I’m sure everybody thinks they’re against them – but they can spread them out over the years."

The NFL generates thousands of versions of the schedule through its computers to come up with the best one to satisfy everyone's desires. But in the end, there will always be a few teams that have a complaint.

"Eventually they have to come out with the schedule," Karwan said. "It’s a mathematical impossibility to make everyone happy."

Friday, April 24, 2015

WHL Eastern Conference Final Preview



The Eastern Conference Championship Series opens Friday as the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Calgary Hitmen continue their quest to become the 49th WHL Champions and earn a spot at the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Quebec City, QC.

The 
WHL Regular Season Champion Brandon Wheat Kings advance to the Eastern Conference Championship Series for the first time since 2010 after defeating the Regina Pats in a five-game series in Round 2. The Wheat Kings now face the Calgary Hitmen, who defeated the Medicine Hat Tigers in five games in their Round 2 match-up. 

Here’s a look at the Eastern Conference Championship Series: 

BRANDON WHEAT KINGS vs CALGARY HITMEN

2014-15 Regular Season Records Brandon:                                   53-11-4-4, 114pts 
Calgary:              
                     45-22-1-4, 95pts 

2014-15 Head-to-Head Records Brandon:                                   3-1-0-0, 6pts
Calgary:                 
                  1-2-0-1, 3pts 

2014-15 Head-to-Head Top Scorers 
Nolan Patrick (B
DN)                 3gp-1g-4a-5pts
Ryan Pilon (B
DN)                     3gp-0g-5a-5pts
Rihards Bukarts (B
DN)             4gp-4g-1a-5pts
Morgan Klimchuk (B
DN)           4gp-2g-3a-5pts
Radel Fazleev (CAL)                 4gp-2g-2a-4pts
Connor Rankin (CAL)                4gp-1g-3a-4pts
Adam Tambellini (CAL)             4gp-1g-3a-4pts

The Brandon Wheat Kings and Calgary Hitmen meet in the Eastern Conference Championship Series for the fourth time in WHL Playoff history. The Hitmen prevailed in the 2009 and 2010 Eastern Conference Championship Series against the Wheat Kings
,while Brandon took the Conference title in 1998The two Clubs last met in Round 1 of the 2012 WHL Playoffs when Brandon advanced in five gamesIn total, the Wheat Kings and Hitmen have met in the post-season on six occasions and have each posted three series victories. The Hitmen and Wheat Kings met four times during the regular season as Brandon claimed three of four.

The Brandon Wheat Kings advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship Series after eliminating the defending MasterCard Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings followed by the Regina Pats, each were five-game series. Offensively, Tim McGauley and Rihards Bukarts are amongst 10 different Wheat Kings that have notched two goals or more thus far in the 2015 WHL Playoffs. McGauley has continued a strong year that saw him record 105 points (42g-63a) during the regular season, third-best in the WHL. Defensively, Ivan Provorov and Eric Roy lead a blue line that has only given up 21 goals in 10 post-season games entering this series. Special teams has played a key role for the Wheat Kings as they have converted on 28.2% of their power play opportunities and have killed 85.0% of their penalties. Brandon has embraced playoff hockey as they own a record of 5-1-0-0 in one-goal contests through their first 10 games of the 2015 WHL Playoffs. Goaltender Jordan Papirny has been terrific for the Wheat Kings, with a 1.98 goals against average and a .938 save percentage, and has started each game so far.

The Calgary Hitmen return to the Eastern Conference Championship Series for the first time since 2013 after edging out the Kootenay ICE in a tough seven-games series before defeating the Medicine Hat Tigers in five games. The Hitmen enter the series as the highest scoring Club in the 2015 WHL Playoffs with a total of 49 goals scored. Hitmen forward Adam Tambellini leads the League with 21 (9g-12a) post-season points while Travis Sanheim leads all WHL defenceman with 15 points (5g-10a). The power play has clicked so far for the Hitmen as their 13 power play goals lead all Clubs. Goaltenders Mack Shields and Brendan Burke have shared the crease this post-season, with Shields receiving the nod of late. Shields owns a 6-1-1 record  in nine appearances so far to go along with a 2.33 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.  

Series Schedule(Game 6 to be announced in the coming days)

Date
Game
Away

Home
Time
Friday, April 24
1
Calgary
@
Brandon
7:30pm CDT
Saturday, April 25
2
Calgary
@
Brandon
7:30pm CDT
Tuesday, April 28
3
Brandon
@
Calgary
7:00pm MDT
Wednesday, April 29
4
Brandon
@
Calgary
7:00pm MDT
Friday, May 1
5*
Calgary
@
Brandon
7:30pm CDT
TBD
6*
Brandon
@
Calgary
TBD
Tuesday, May 5
7*
Calgary
@
Brandon
7:00pm CDT
*If necessary

Current NHL Prospects

Brandon Wheat Kings
Player
Position
YOB
NHL Club
Jayce Hawryluk
C
1996
Florida Panthers
Peter Quenneville
RW
1994
Columbus Blue Jackets
John Quenneville
C
1996
New Jersey Devils
Morgan Klimchuk
LW
1995
Calgary Flames
Reid Duke
C
1996
Minnesota Wild
Eric Roy
D
1994
Calgary Flames

Calgary Hitmen
Player
Position
YOB
NHL Club
Kenton Helgesen
LW
1994
Anaheim Ducks
Chase Lang
RW
1996
Minnesota Wild
Jake Virtanen
RW
1996
Vancouver Canucks
Adam Tambellini
C
1994
New York Rangers
Radel Fazleev
LW
1996
Philadelphia Flyers
Keegan Kanzig
D
1995
Calgary Flames
Ben Thomas
D
1996
Tampa Bay Lightning
Travis Sanheim
D
1996
Philadelphia Flyers
Brendan Burke
G
1995
Arizona Coyotes

2015 NHL Draft Prospects

Brandon Wheat Kings
Player
Position
YOB
NHL CSS Final Ranking
Ivan Provorov
D
1997
7 (NA Skaters)
Ryan Pilon
D
1996
24 (NA Skaters)
Jordan Papirny
G
1996
28 (NA Goalies)
Tim McGauley
C
1995
165 (NA Skaters)

Calgary Hitmen
Player
Position
YOB
NHL CSS Final Ranking
Pavel Karnaukhov
C
1997
118 (NA Skaters)
Micheal Zipp
D
1996
189 (NA Skaters)

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