With the Stanley Cup playoffs set to begin on Wednesday, it is time to make some predictions. Before we do that though, I want to first look at the last seven Stanley Cup finals to give ourselves a better idea of what it takes to get there. I don’t have a magic formula, or a crystal ball, but that won’t stop me from acting like I do.
The main effort was to put together a “Stanley Cup Standard”. To give a picture of what your average Stanley Cup winner looked like in a specific set of statistics, and use that to find our winner this year. I went back to the 2009-2010 season, and I included the losing team to give a better sample size. I didn’t want to focus solely on possession stats like Corsi and Fenwick. Providing only ‘Even-Strength Corsi For’ and ‘Even-Strength Fenwick For’ acted as a starting point. We will also use where each team ranked in those statistics.
‘Goals For’, ‘Goals Against’, ‘Goal Differential’, ‘Power Play’, and ‘Penalty Kill’ were the next step for me. You hear about them a lot, but I haven’t seen their impact quantified before. I didn’t want to provide the hard stats for each category, but rather where the teams ranked each season. Think of each rank as best-to-worst. To put it simply; if you are third in ‘goals against’ that means you were the third best team at keeping pucks out of your net.
‘Average Age’ and ‘Average Age Rank’ are there for the sake of curiosity. I was not sure if there would be a tangible effect, but we do hear age talked about quite a bit when it comes to teams, and I wanted to see it tracked. ‘Average Age Rank’ is oldest-to-youngest.
Stanley Cup losers
Here is what the last seven Stanley Cup losing teams have looked like. What stands out immediately to me is how good the Vancouver Canucks were the year they lost to the Boston Bruins. They are an outlier when compared to the teams surrounding them, and are very much on par with recent Stanley Cup winners.
The New Jersey Devils, and the Philadephia Flyers were sub-par teams when compared exclusively to this collection of clubs. Of the 14 teams we will look at, they are the only ones that were outside the top-10 in goal differential.
San Jose flips the script on special teams when compared to other clubs. Seeing as they lost, it didn’t seem to help.
Beneath the ‘Average’ row is ‘Fit’, and it takes teams from this season and matches them up with what the average number is in each category. If the team that was best suited for a category did not make the playoffs, I moved up a spot until I found a playoff team (designated by a black arrow). This holds true for the next table.
Stanley Cup winners
The penalty kill remains a vital tool in a Cup contender’s arsenal, and the average stays the same between the two groupings. Most interesting to me is that a team’s power play does not have a major impact on their chances heading into the post-season. The Los Angeles Kings were particularly bad on the power play in 2014, but they still dominated the league in many ways.
Boston in 2011 is a bit of an outlier, but their defensive play was very strong. ‘Goal Differential’ continues to be a big indicator of playoff success.
Chicago in 2010 were a very efficient team. Of the 14 teams we are looking at, they are also the youngest. Considering how impressive they played, and how young they were, there is no surprise that they became a dynasty.
Stanley Cup finalists combined, and we bring it altogether
Here we see what the combined average is from each of the 14 teams. The first row designates our typical ‘best fit’ scenario, and beneath that you find which team lead the league in these categories in 2016-2017.
Across the board it remains clear that strong possession numbers, and an effective defense, is key. This will not be surprising to anyone who watches hockey. What might be a little surprising is how the power play has very little impact on deciding a contender.
It isn’t shocking that the Washington Capitals keep popping up in these categories, but I was surprised with the Boston Bruins. If you want a dark horse team, go with Boston. They have a real chance to go deep, and if not for their backend I might have picked them. I’m not sold that they have the defensive depth required to beat teams like Pittsburgh and Washington. They can definitely make it to the Eastern finals, but they will be stopped there.
The Western conference doesn’t have a poor showing, but no team really stands out. Typical possession juggernauts like Chicago are not nearly as dominate. They have put it together heading down the stretch, but I believe this is the season they stumble. The Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and the St. Louis Blues are all intriguing choices, but each one of them falls apart when trying to place them into these completely scientific categories. Minnesota holds things down on the defensive end, and I love their depth at center, but they would be the first team with a sub-50% even-strength corsi to make the finals. Nashville has a strong showing in possession, but their special teams and goals against are all very middling. St. Louis suffers from all the same issues that Nashville does, but have a stronger penalty kill.
After all these years, and all the letdowns, I believe that this will be the season that Washington puts everything together and Alexander Ovechkin gets his championship. Nashville will beat out Chicago in the first round, before meeting their end to the eventual winner of the West: the St. Louis Blues.
Western Conference Winner: St. Louis Blues
Stanley Cup Winner: Washington Capitals