The miserable 2015-16 season saw the Montreal Canadiens miss out on the playoffs for just the third time in ten seasons. Expectations were much higher going into the season, but for various reasons that have been explored, the team fell far short.
This article is not intended to dissect, nor point the finger, but rather tackle the question of whether this past season was indeed a "historical collapse" in quantifiable terms by looking at the team record since the 1917-1918 season to present day.
In order to be able to compare almost 100 seasons worth of data with a varying number of games played and the introduction of the "loser point" in 2004 into a single dataset, I had to do the following to streamline the data:
- Season performance was converted into Points Percentage Earned (Pts%), which is the total amount of points earned divided by the total number of points available. (i.e. In an 82 game season a team can earn a maximum 164 points. If they actually earned 100 points, then 100/164 = 61.0% of all possible points).
- The number of games played varied over time, so in order to level it out, I used Percentage of Games Played (GP%), which is the percentage of games played in the season. (i.e. Game 41 of an 82 game season is 50% GP).
Taking the Season as a Whole
First of all, let's look at the overall performance of the team this season. 82 points in 82 games. That's a 50.0% points percentage. Historically speaking, that's the 19th worst season ever for the Canadiens. The best season ever recorded by the Canadiens was the 1943-44 season with a ridiculous 83.0%. The worst team record ever is the 1939-40 team, who recorded a pitiful 26.00%. So that's the range.
Over the last few years under Michel Therrien, the team has typically had quite good regular season results, thanks in large part to the exploits of Carey Price. But those prior results being much better is where things get interesting.
In terms of year-over-year (YOY) points percentage differential, the data gets much worse. Given how the team had the highest points percentage in 2014-15 (67.1%) since the 1988-89 season (71.9%), this season's performance of 50.0% ranks among one of the worst Year-Over-Year declines in the history of the organization at -16.7%, only behind 1945-46 (-19.0%), 1947-48 (-22.5%), and 1925-26 (-28.1%). Under these terms this past season was also not the worst season ever.
Looking at Year-Over-Year results is of course a relative measure, and one must consider the previous season's result. With 2014-15 being a very successful season for the Canadiens, both in terms of total points percentage earned and year-over-year improvement, the 2015-16 season essentially undid all this progress, and points to a significant collapse.
So About That Collapse...
As the downward spiral progressed, many began suggesting that it could be the worst collapse in franchise history. In order to determine the validity of this argument, I looked at each season individually, and compared their pts% at the halfway point of the season (GP 50%) and the end of the season (GP 100%) and compared those two values, then ranked them in order of highest to lowest.
Highest would of course indicate the biggest comeback in franchise history, and the lowest would indicate the biggest collapse in franchise history.
The Top 10 Biggest Comebacks in franchise history are presented for interest and bear no direct reference to this past season, and are presented just for the curious. It's important to recognize that the 1999-2000 and 1938-1939 seasons are on this list because of a strong comeback in the second half of the season, but the final result is still equivalent to a terrible season.
In terms of Top 10 biggest collapses we do find the 2015-2016 season as expected, however it only ranks ninth worst, tied with 2006-2007. So the argument of "worst collapse ever" is becoming increasingly invalid.
And the Winner For Worst Collapse Ever Is...
A definitive way of looking at a 'collapse', is to compare the MAX Pts% with the MIN Pts% on any given season. A winning start to the season will clearly yield a 100% MAX Pts%, and can only get worse from there. And so, after eliminating all possible contenders, I came down to the following two seasons as being the worst two collapses in Montreal Canadiens history. The winner for worst collapse in Canadiens history was the 1939-40 season.
So, last season, thankfully, is conclusively not the "worst collapse in franchise history." That hyperbole should no longer be used to try and qualify last season. That being said, it was still absolutely disastrous, and shed a bright light on the team's weaknesses.
It was definitely bad, but it could have - and has been - worse.