Saturday, April 17, 2010

Secret Success Factors in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - Are the Caps Doomed?

With the Caps having a historically good regular season, but finding themselves down 1-0 in the 1st round, I thought it was worth finding out what factors have led to success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I specifically want to find the predictors of playoff success, characteristics of a Stanley Cup winner, and why the other 2 best teams of the past 13+ years lost in the 1st round of the playoffs.

Don't you wish you were that Cup? Although it should be noted her boyfriend is the heavyweight champion of the world....

My objective would be best achieved by regression analysis of all playoff teams of the past 13 years, but that would take waaaaayyyyy too long, so I have opted to do some research from other writers' work, as well as researching Stanley Cup winners on Let the bullet points fly!

There really isn't much here, except that better regular season teams are better in the playoffs, big freaking suprise.

To examine the characteristics of a Stanley Cup winner, I went through the champions of the past 12 seasons and examined regular season points, goal differential, 5-on-5 ratio, and special teams goal differential. Here are the brief results:

  • Every champion was in the top-3 in regular season points, except for last year's Pittsburgh team, which was 9th.
  • Every champion was in the top-6 in regular season goal differential, except last year's Pittsburgh team, which was 9th. I'm sensing a theme here........
  • 9 of the 12 champions had a 5-on-5 scoring rate in the top-8 in the league, with one team 12th, one team 19th, and one team 26th (dead last!).
  • Every champion had a positive special teams goal differential, and aside from 2 teams, every team was at least +14 over the course of the regular season. The worst team here was Pittsburgh last year, which was only +2. If it walks like a fluke, and smells like a fluke......

This simple research tells me the following:

  • Last year's Penguins winning the Cup was a fluke. I think I'm internally bleeding.
  • We can likely eliminate the following teams as true cup contenders due to low regular season point total: Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Buffalo, and Colorado.
  • We can likely eliminate the following teams as true cup contenders due to poor regular season goal differential: Nashville, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Colorado.
  • We can likely eliminate the following teams as true cup contenders due to poor special teams play: Phoenix, Colorado, Nashville, and Ottawa.

This leaves the following teams: Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Chicago, Vancouver, Los Angeles. That is 3 of the top 4 seeds in the East, and the top 3 seeds in the West plus LA, which is the 6th seed.

The final question is why the '99-'00 Blues and '05-'06 Red Wings had such epic meltdowns. The '99-'00 Blues were only the 23rd-best 5-on-5 team, but were great in almost every other aspect. The only minor holes I can find are in number of penalties taken, giveaways, takeaways, and having fewer power plays than penalty kills. Detroit in '05-'06 is much the same in that their resume looks pretty immaculate, with their only flaw appearing to be giveaways (7th-most in the league, with the Blues ranking 8th in '99-'00). Examing these stats for Cup winners indicates that the only red flags are having fewer power plays than penalty kills (only 1 champion) and having such a high number of giveaways (only 1 champion).

One would assume that elite teams have the puck more than their opponents and thus have a high number of total giveaways, but every Cup winner in the past 12 seasons was in the top-half of the league except for the '01-'02 Red Wings. Not all of the Cup winners were great in this aspect, but none of the other teams were terrible. I do realize that giveaways are highly subjective and that there is a lot more research that could be done, but giveaways could quite possibly be the secret to playoff failure, in addition to having more more penalty kills than powerplays.

So what does this mean for this year's playoffs? The teams with a high number of giveaways are: Montreal, Buffalo, Los Angeles, San Jose, Detroit, Nashville, Washington, Ottawa, and New Jersey. The Caps were the 10th-worst giveaway team in the league this year, uh-oh....

The teams with more penalty kills than powerplays: Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, San Jose, and Washington. The Caps have had 3 fewer powerplays than penalty kills, tied for 6th-worst in the playoffs. Double uh-oh......

The problem with this analysis is that I didn't go into the depth of using regressions and I only examined Stanley Cup winners, not which teams generally have playoff success. There are also exceptions to every rule, so even though the Canadians do not look like Cup contenders, and the Caps have a relatively high number of giveaways, does not mean we can confidently leap to any conclusions. Looking at the numbers from a gambling perspective? Chicago and Vancouver are the only teams without holes from this analysis. Maybe I should stop while I'm ahead......

(Stats courtesy of,, and Image courtesy of


  1. The one thing I'd say is that when looking at the regular season, two things aren't taken into account: injuries and trades. Detroit was steamrolled by injuries early in the season and, when finally healthy, played classic Red Wings hockey. Additionally, acquiring a guy at the trade deadline can completely transform a team, for better or worse, so evaluating a team's regular season in its entirety (as opposed to consisting of various stages) isn't flawless.

    Otherwise, great stuff MC.

  2. How much of the caps goal differentials is a factor of simply great offense? Aren't their best defenseman known more for their offensive prowess and dangerous injury cart driving?

    Crackpipe, show me some statistics on how this defense fares against others now. Fuck historically. They aren't playing the 2001 Canucks or the '93 Red Wings. Can their defense hold its own?


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