## Let’s Talk About The Intangibles Of Tails

There’s a school of thought that the end result of a game or series says something fundamental about the teams that competed in it.  The notion that a team can win a playoff series despite being outplayed is openly scoffed at by some, but it seems self-evident to me.

So I engaged in an exercise.  I took a loonie, and I decided to make a playoff bracket – two conferences of eight teams each.  I picked one team as heads and one team as tails in each round.  Now, we know that the odds of either team winning the series are 50/50, but that’s not what we saw in the results:

The first round broke down like this:

• 4-1 Tails Win
• 4-2 Tails Win
• 4-1 Tails Win
• 4-2 Tails Win

The nice thing about this first round is that we have even numbers of tails and heads in the second round.  But something shocking happened in the second round:

• 4-2 Tails Win
• 4-3 Tails Win
• 4-0 Tails Win
• 4-2 Tails Win

All tails!  I’m happy to explain it, as well.  Tails played their game.  They just wanted it more than heads.  They paid the price, went into danger areas, and won puck battles.

In the third round, I was forced to make two of the tails switch to heads.  The new heads won one round (four game sweep) and the new tails won one round (again, a four game sweep).  In the final, the converted heads met the original tails and tails won in an epic seven-game series.

There’s a point to all this.  There was no difference at all between heads and tails in terms of what they were doing.  Yet, tails won 10 of fifteen series, wiping out the second round and winning the finals.  If sportswriters were covering my coin-flipping, we’d be hearing interesting things about intangibles, strategy, and character.

Because that, to me, is a fundamental flaw with the way sportscasters cover the game.  They look at the winners, they decide what the winners did to win, and construct a story line around it.  They assume whoever won yesterday must be doing something right, and whoever lost yesterday must be doing something wrong, and the simple fact is that it isn’t that way.  This is sports, not morality; a smart bet can backfire and a dumb decision can pay off in spades.

Over a long period of time – a regular season or two – the cream rises to the top, but that’s not how we judge teams.  We judge them on the basis of success in a series of seven game series, and accept no excuses for failure.  It’s inevitable and understandable, but produces a lot of nonsense as a result.

1. Outstanding work, sir.

2. I hope you made. the home games count by putting the heads face up for there home games and visa versa.

3. I think the San Jose series was a perfect example of this.

I don’t think I’ve seen a flip flop as incredible as the one in the media between when Colorado won 1-0 and San Jose wiping them out in game 6… despite the fact that most of the games went the same way.

For a game that people allegedly spend hours a night watching, it’s incredible how much they throw out the window when the buzzer goes.

I think a lot of these guys would benefit from writing down what they see over 2 minute segments and then go back and read over the whole thing and then see what they saw as the game went on, not just the final score.

4. Generally speaking the better team will win a best of 7 series. But to say the better team or the team that played better always wins. That is just plain stupid. You don’t have to be an NHL history buff to find examples of where the better team that outplayed their opponent still lost the series. Goaltenders will and do steal series all the time. As an Oiler fan I can clearly remembember ’97 against Dallas and ’98 against Colorado. Two series Oilers won without being the better team.

5. Mark:

Exactly. The Oilers first round series vs. Detroit in 2006 is another good example. In most cases the best team wins. but in some cases they don’t and there’s no further meaning to it than that.

6. Maybe tails was more clutch than heads.

7. Tails had too many men on the ice

8. Tails went to the tough areas on the ice and won all the battles on the boards. They simply wanted it more.

9. You guys have it all wrong. Tails just had more cup-winning experience on the team, and great locker room guys.

10. First off, tossing a coin is not a 50/50 proposition. There is a known and proven bias towards the coin landing on the same face that it started from. Factor in potential environmental effects (wind, humidity, coin quality etc) and you’ve got an interesting argument for a group of drunks with nothing better to do.
Second, the playoffs are not the regular season. The ‘cream rises to the top’ in a seven game series. Anyone who doesn’t get this is completely missing the point.
Third, you can’t use evidence as proof when the evidence doesn’t follow the same logic as the proof. If a short series doesn’t prove anything than obviously, flipping a coin 7 times proves the same. ie.nothing.
Fourth, if you won; it is because your team did more things right than wrong. Or, at least; less things wrong than the other team. Trying to predict it is pointless but to say it was happenstance is idiocy. If you win, it is because you were better. You winning a lottery yesterday doesn’t make you a winner tomorrow.
Fifth, sportscasters have to do something on the air. Talking about stuff is what we all do,why should they be different?

11. First off, tossing a coin is not a 50/50 proposition. There is a known and proven bias towards the coin landing on the same face that it started from. Factor in potential environmental effects (wind, humidity, coin quality etc) and you’ve got an interesting argument for a group of drunks with nothing better to do.

The idea is making shit up out of nothing. Replace the coin with well-seeded random number generator, uniform distirbution, then come back with your semantics.

Second, the playoffs are not the regular season. The ‘cream rises to the top’ in a seven game series. Anyone who doesn’t get this is completely missing the point.

You not only missed the point, you don’t even know where it is.

Fourth, if you won; it is because your team did more things right than wrong. Or, at least; less things wrong than the other team. Trying to predict it is pointless but to say it was happenstance is idiocy. If you win, it is because you were better. You winning a lottery yesterday doesn’t make you a winner tomorrow.

12. @Noskillgill:

Your argument is that the best team wins every time. That’s total, unadulterated nonsense. What if Brett Hull’s goal against Buffalo in OT is disallowed? What happens? What if Pavel Bure scores on that penalty shot against the Rangers in ’94? One play – and I think anyone other than a hopeless idiot can admit that one play is subject to chance – can change an entire series, and if one play can then two plays can and we’re forced to admit that chance has an impact.

Like it or not.

“If a short series doesn’t prove anything than obviously, flipping a coin 7 times proves the same. ie.nothing.”

I never said a short series proved nothing. I said that the superior team doesn’t always win the seven game series – I could have done this with a 60/40 split on a random number generator and sometimes the 40 would win – despite being inferior. That’s the point.

“If you win, it is because you were better”.

Only in morality plays.

13. Sorry JW but the best team does win every time. That’s what winning does. It defines. I understand the argument but I disagree with the conclusion. You can’t argue with results.