In North American ice hockey, guessing which are the team matchups for the postseason can often seem arcane. Not anymore with the playoffs race simulator we did at La Presse.
We started work on the simulator about 10 days ago. I had found a great sports stats website called Sports Club Stats while reading tweets from one of The Montreal Gazette’s Habs reporters. The site has a section where it lists the chances your team will finish at a particular standing rank, which is important for first-round playoffs matchups.
A site with numbers is nice, but it’s probably even more interesting if you could see the possibilities for yourself.
To develop the Simulator we used D3.js, a great library for building applications in the browser where the document (the “webpage”) needs to change according to the data that you load and then interactively change.
We had in mind to develop the Simulator for the iPad, thus some of the design choices like an interface dominated with clickable shapes and buttons, rather than scroll-down menus and text boxes.
Such an interface could possibly be refurbished to be a “calendar visualiser”. It’s D3.js, so you could resize the axes as you please, although we didn’t judge it necessary to do so in this iteration of the application. The horizontal axis is the date and the vertical is the current rank, but there is no reason why you couldn’t line up the games by their score differential, or re-order the teams by their number of overtime wins, etc.
Finally, the fun factor is the most important. Why a hockey schedule simulator? It gets crucial at the end of the season, as the number of games left and amount of standing points remaining to be distributed become easier to calculate mentally. Easier to calculate, but still real hard to visualise (unless you have a big sheet of paper, a calculator and a game schedule nearby).
You can calculate all the scenarios, with tie-breakers and complex mutually exclusive situations taken into account by the simulator so that you can avoid having a headache. Games between teams is the second tie-breaker and quite complex to program right, because you need to know the entire schedule and how many away and home games have been played.
This application is a first in the hockey world, and perhaps in the north american sports scene, as far as I know. You can justify its development cost because hockey is a religion in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.
To top it off, you give it the title for what most people in La Presse’s home market will use it for: figure out who their Habs will play against in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But you might as well use it for any of the team you prefer following.