Hockey games are played on ice, not on paper. And yes, sometimes stats lie.
Nonetheless, NHL fans can look at a select few statistics that have gone hand in hand with playoff success over the past 10 seasons. The statistics are overly simple and yet incredibly pertinent: goals for, goals allowed, goal differential and road record.
Those initial three statistical measures are, as previously stated, mind-numbingly straightforward. The last, record on the road, has also proven to be crucial come May and June. In fact, the last four Stanley Cup Champions have won The Cup on the road.
Without further ado, it is time to start eliminating teams that will not make the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup based on this metric.
Teams Eliminated Due to Lack of Goals For:
St. Louis Blues
Of the last 10 Stanley Cup winners, nine of those teams finished in the top 10 in the NHL in scoring. The only team to win the Stanley Cup and not finish in the top 10 was the 2002-2003 New Jersey Devils, who finished 14th.
The average NHL ranking of the last 10 Cup winners in Goals For was 5.3. This year, St. Louis finished 20th, Florida finished 26th and Los Angeles finished 29th. Despite great goaltending, at least for the Blues and Kings, none of these teams score frequently enough to hoist the cup.
Teams Eliminated Due to Too Many Goals Against:
Eight of the last 10 Stanley Cup Champions finished in the top 11 in the NHL in Goals Allowed. The two exceptions were the 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, both of which finished 18th in the league. The average ranking over the last ten years was 7.0.
This season, Philadelphia ranks 20th in the NHL in goals allowed, Chicago ranks 22nd and Ottawa ranks 24th.
While it should be noted that all of these teams can score, let’s take a flash back to the aforementioned Carolina and Pittsburgh teams that were relative outliers in the Goals Allowed category. The 2005-2006 Hurricanes had a 100-point scorer in Eric Staal and two other 75-plus-point scorers. The 2008-2009 Penguins had two of the top three scorers in the NHL, as both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had over 100 points.
But the bottom line is this: None of these teams are strong enough between the pipes to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Teams Eliminated Due to Goal Differential:
I should note that as the list goes on, I am only identifying teams that have not yet been eliminated. Many teams are disqualified due to a poor goal differential, but the Phoenix Coyotes are the only team of the bunch that had yet to be eliminated.
Anyway, the weakest Stanley Cup Champion of the last decade, in terms of Goal Differential, was the 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins; those Penguins ranked eighth in the league in goal differential. This year, the Phoenix Coyotes are 12th in the NHL.
Goal differential, unsurprisingly, has a strong correlation with Cup winners; the average NHL ranking in this category for champions is 3.7. The Coyotes don’t appear to be strong enough to lift the hardware.
Teams Eliminated Due to Road Record:
Once again, the 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins establish themselves as a team that overcame statistical odds to win it all.
Since 2001, every Stanley Cup Champion finished in the top 10 in the NHL in road points. Eight of those teams finished in the top five, and nine of those teams finished in the top seven (Pittsburgh being the lone exception). The average winner finishes the regular season ranked 4.6 in the league in accumulating points on the road.
This season, the San Jose Sharks finished 15th in the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings finished 20th. It probably does not help either of those teams to know that they both must open the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road.
Teams Eliminated Due to Not Being An Elite Offensive or Defensive Team:
New Jersey Devils
Pekka Rinne is as good as it gets between the pipes and Martin Brodeur might be the greatest goaltender in the NHL history. That being said, nine of the last 10 Stanley Cup winners finished in the top four in the NHL in goals for or goals allowed.
Simply put, it is essential to be a premier offensive or defensive team.
Nashville ranks ninth in scoring and 10th in Goals Allowed; New Jersey is 15th and eighth, respectively. The only Stanley Cup winner in the last decade to not finish in the top four in offense or defense was the 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks, however, were top-five in the NHL on both the power play and penalty kill.
If you have been doing the math along the way (as if I haven’t provided you with enough numbers to keep you preoccupied), you would find that just four NHL teams remain: the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks.
First off, we have crowned a Western Conference Champion: the Vancouver Canucks. Now, we are down to three finalists for the Prince of Wales Trophy. The most sensible step to take at this juncture is to compare the three teams using the statistics above.
This is how they compare:
New York Rangers: No. 11 Goals For, No. 3 Goals Allowed, No. 6 Goal Differential, No. 1 Road Record
Boston Bruins: No. 3 Goals For, No. 6 Goals Allowed, No. 1 Goal Differential, No. 4 Road Record
Pittsburgh Penguins: No. 1 Goals For, No. 17 Goals Against, No. 2 Goal Differential, No. 7 Road Record
The Boston Bruins look to have the strongest resume of these three teams, and thus are the statistical favorites to win the Eastern Conference. If this analysis holds true, the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup will be a rematch of last year’s Finals between Vancouver and Boston.
The Bruins ended their cup drought last June; perhaps it is Vancouver’s turn.