Should The Ottawa Senators Fall To The 6th Seed – How Much Does Seeding Matter?


Now that it is pretty much assured that the Senators will be in the playoffs, there will be a lot of supposition among Sens fans that moving to the 6th seed might be the best slot for the Sens to finish, in order to get the winner of the South(l)east division.  As it stands right now, Pittsburgh has a firm hold on the top seed, while the 2nd and 4th seed will most likely be Boston and Montreal (although Ottawa does have a shot to move up.   That leaves Ottawa in the 5 hole (so to speak) and the Leafs in the 6th spot, 2 points back.

Mar 19, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Ottawa Senators right wing Daniel Alfredsson (11) keeps the puck from New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (51) during the first period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

So, does the 6th seed really have a decided advantage in a league where the division champions are seeded 1-2-3?

Here are the numbers, based on the 13 seasons that the format has been used:

1 vs 8 – The 8th seed has upset the first seed 7 times in 26 series.  That translates into a 73% success rate for the higher seed.  The upsets have happened 3 times in the Eastern Conference and 4 times in the Western.

2 vs 7 – The 7th seed has pulled the upset 10 times in 26 opportunities.  The 2 seed has a 62% success rate of eliminating the 7th seeded team.  Amazingly enough, the Eastern Conference 7 seed is almost .500 – 6 series wins against 7 losses, while in the West 2 beats 7 on 10 of 13 occasions.

4 vs 5 – The 4 seed has the same level of success as the 2 seed overall.  Sixteen of 26 times, the 4 has beaten the 5, for a 62% success rate.  The Western Conference 5 seed has the  most success with the upset, 6 times in 13 chances, while the Eastern 4 seeds are much more successful holding serve, winning on 9 of 13 occasions.

Which brings me to the 3 vs 6 seed.  As you would expect, the three seed has the least amount of success of any of the “favorites”, but it is not by as much as you would think.  The 6 seed has only won 11 of 26 times, meaning the 3 seed still has a 58% success rate.  That changes when you look at the conferences, as in the East, the 6 actually wins more than the 3, 7 times to 6.  In the West, the 3 has won 9 of 13 times.

Until you look at those 3 vs 6 match-ups a little closer, and you see that 16 times out of 26, the team in the 3 seed was actually fairly “deserving” meaning they would have been a top-4 seed and had home ice advantage even without the 1-2-3 divisional leader ranking. In those 16 series, the 3 seed has won 11 times and lost 5 times, for a success rate of 69%.

In the 10 playoff series’ where the 3 seed was “not deserving” of that seed, meaning would have finished 5th or below in the standings, the 3rd seed is still 5 wins and 5 losses, for a 50% success rate.

However, even more interesting to note, of the 5 times that the 3rd seed actually had a lower number of points than the team they were playing against in the Eastern Conference, as it appears will happen this year,  the 6 seed “upset” the 3 seed on 4 of the 5 occasions, or 80% of the time.

So in conclusion:

1 beats 8 – 73% (77% EAST)

2 beats 7 – 62% (46% EAST)

overall – 3 beats 6 – 58% (46% EAST)

“deserving” 3 beats 6 – 63% (60% EAST)

“non-deserving” 3 beats 6 – 50% (38% EAST)

4 beats 5 – 62% (69% EAST)

It would appear that the way it is lining up, Ottawa’s best chance for a first round win would be to fall 1 slot to the 6th seed.   In years like this where the 3rd seed team is not really deserving of the 3rd seed, their success rate is only 50%, and that falls to 20% when the 6 seed actually had more points than the 3rd seed.

So in the end, while seeding does matter, it is not as important as you might think.  The favorites win 64% of all series, while the underdogs take 36% regardless of the seeding.

Just goes to prove that all you need to do is get in, and the seeding doesn’t really matter much, except in cases like this season where the #6 will have a decided statistical advantage in the Eastern Conference.


As for the Senators, they are 4-7 in the first round since the current format was adopted for the 1998-99 season.

They have won from the #1 seed twice, as well as the #4 and #7 seeds.

They have lost from the #2 seed twice, the #5 seed twice, the #6, #7 and #8 seed one time each.

So can the Senators win from the #6 seed?  Of course they can, and should if they get that luxury.  You are never going to get players or people involved in the team to admit it, but by the numbers that would be an even better spot than the #1 or #2 seed in the conference.