Ranking the 10 Unluckiest Teams in the 2013-14 NHL Season
Luck is a controversial term in hockey, but it does exist. Goalies get hot, shooters get cold, refs miss calls, players get hurt and close games are lost when posts are hit.
Hockey is a game of tremendous skill, but it's also one with a lot of bounces and breaks that don't always cut in both directions. Which teams were most frequently on the wrong side of fortune's good graces this year?
We have recently found a way to use analytics to at least partially estimate the effect luck has had on each team. It involves measuring several distinct areas, each of which involve varying degrees of luck.
- Impact of injuries, including the number, the severities and the durations
- Unusually low shooting percentages and/or save percentages
- Particularly ineffective power plays or penalty killing
- Weaker record in one-goal regulation-time games
- Sub-.500 record in overtime and/or shootouts
It is yet to become an exact science, so analysts often come to their own conclusion by using the luck tool that is available over at Hockey Abstract. What follows is my personal interpretation.
Obviously the league's unluckiest teams all had highly disappointing seasons. Though Pittsburgh was stung with injuries, and Chicago's post-regulation record was the league's worst, they were fortunate enough overall to avoid making this top 10.
Turn over to find out which of this year's non-playoff teams were the unluckiest and to what extent.
10. Detroit Red Wings: 4.3 Points
Detroit is currently just ahead of Toronto and Washington for the final position but with two games in hand on the former.
The Red Wings started off the season very lucky, including a 5-0 record in regulation-time one-goal games (4-5 since then) and great special teams.
Unfortunately for Detroit, that's when things started to take a turn for the worse.
The Detroit Red Wings have been stung by injuries to a greater extent than any other NHL team.
Their two superstars, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, have missed a combined 62 games with various head, lower-body, knee and back injuries. Thirteen other forwards have been hit with injuries at one point of the season or another.
Goalies Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson have also missed a combined 34 games with groin, knee, hand and hip injuries, and even the blue line hasn't escaped unscathed with notable injuries to Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser.
Detroit has used 34 different skaters this season, far more than the 25 to 29 it has averaged in the past. It really is a wonder how Detroit is in the playoff race at all.
The Detroit Red Wings have a roughly even chance of making the playoffs, just as they have had for a while now, but it would be in the bag with a little more luck.
Average luck would probably not have been enough to climb out of the two final wild-card spots, however, nor will it be enough to get beyond the first round.
9. Dallas Stars: 4.3 Points
Dallas has spent its fair share of time on both sides of the luck ledger.
The Stars were the fifth and sixth unluckiest team in 2008-09 and 2009-10, respectively, followed by the fourth and seventh luckiest in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
This season the Stars find themselves on luck's bad side, but it's only by a slight margin. Unfortunately for them, that slight margin is what currently separates them from clinching a playoff spot.
Dallas' luck ends when the 60 minutes expire.
Post-regulation records can often be the result of random variation, with little-to-no correlation with each team's regulation-time performance. This reality, at least as it relates to the shootout, was established years ago by analysts such as Mike Schuckers writing for Arctic Ice Hockey.
One way to identify unlucky teams is therefore to look at their record in post-regulation play. The Dallas Stars, for instance, have a 5-11 record in overtime and the shootout, those five post-regulation wins ranking second to last in the NHL.
Put another way, that's only 21 post-regulation points. That may sound like a lot, but Washington has 38, San Jose has 37 and half the NHL has at least 30.
It does take skill to get close games into overtime and to get those extra points, but there's also a great deal of luck involved too. This year the Dallas Stars didn't have much of either.
The Dallas Stars are currently a little bit better than a 50-50 coin flip to finally end their five-season playoff drought.
The extra four or five points that bad luck has cost them would certainly be enough to secure that playoff spot but probably lift them no higher than seventh in the West. It remains a tough proposition to make the second round.
8. Edmonton Oilers: 5.3 Points
Despite finishing 24th in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers were actually one of the luckier teams in 2012-13.
David Staples of the Edmonton Journal didn't initially believe this, because it essentially meant that the Oilers were the worst team in the league last year. The resulting prediction that the Oilers would finish 27th this season was received with great skepticism.
This season the Oilers' luck changed quite dramatically for the worse. Initially they started off as one of the league's unluckiest teams, just as they were in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but things started to improve as the season wore on—luck-wise, at least.
Devan Dubnyk, with a career .913 save percentage in 139 NHL games going into this season, suddenly couldn't stop a thing. He posted an .894 save percentage before being shipped off to Nashville (and ultimately to Montreal). Backup Jason LaBarbera didn't fare much better, and Ilya Bryzgalov was shipped off almost as quickly as he was signed.
In total the Oilers have tried six goalies this season, finally settling on the tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth who began the season as the backups in Los Angeles and Anaheim, respectively. As a team their goaltending has a .904 save percentage, a big drop from last year's .920.
Their own shooting percentage has dropped a bit too, from 9.6 percent to 9.0 percent. Other than goaltending there is not one single area where the Oilers have been particularly blasted by bad luck, but it has instead been spread out a little bit everywhere.
Their record in regulation-time one-goal games, for instance, is 5-8, and they're 7-9 in overtime and/or the shootout.
Yes, the Oilers are in the hunt for the first overall draft pick, but the extra points would have likely advanced them no further than 28th anyway.
The bad luck might have consequently seemed harmless, but don't dismiss the motivational and psychological effect of all those extra losses, especially on such a young team.
7. New Jersey Devils: 6.0 Points
The New Jersey Devils are a classic example of a team that outshoots and outplays its opponents and yet somehow skates away without the win.
When it comes to luck, it's either feast or famine in New Jersey. They were second last in 2012-13, but they were fifth-luckiest in their Stanley Cup-finalist season in 2011-12. Likewise they were third and 10th luckiest in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but they were fifth-unluckiest in 2010-11.
As for this season, most of the bad luck came early in the season after which the Devils simply could never work their way back into a playoff spot.
For whatever reason, the Devils struggle in clutch situations.
The Devils have the second-worst shooting percentage differential in the NHL at even strength in close-game situations, according to the data at Extra Skater. Opponents scored on 9.2 percent of their shots versus the Devils scoring on just 7.3 percent of theirs, for a net differential of minus-1.9 percent.
Charlie Clarke of Last Word on Sports expanded on these points recently, referring to the Devils as the "unluckiest team in the NHL" and the team that was "suffering some sort of curse by the hockey gods."
Part of the issue was turning to 41-year-old legend Martin Brodeur in almost half of their games. The future Hall of Famer has posted a weak .903 save percentage, which is sadly typical of his last four seasons.
If the team could have averaged at least two goals per 60 minutes or more in front of star goalie Cory Schneider, then coach Peter DeBoer might not have felt it necessary to turn to Brodeur so frequently.
Randy Miller of NJ.com captured Schneider's reaction to this as follows: "Yeah, sometimes you just need a little fortune. You need a couple bounces. You need a streak of luck a little bit."
Maybe next year.
This bad luck will almost certainly cost the New Jersey Devils a playoff spot for the second season in a row. Even a half-dozen points is more than enough to have secured one of the final two wild-card spots.
As it stands the Devils have about a one-in-eight chance of making the postseason. Maybe the tides of fortune will make a last-minute restitution.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 6.1 Points
This will be Carolina's third straight year as one of the league's unluckiest teams, but it will actually be an improvement after two straight years in the bottom three.
The Carolina Hurricanes were hit quite hard by injuries—Fourth-hardest specifically, according to the data compiled at Springing Malik.
In a formula that's based on the cap hit of injured players, the Hurricanes suffered the second most in goaltending and the most among defensemen. It's rather impressive that they nevertheless remained roughly around the league average in goals against.
Beyond that, the Hurricanes were stung a little bit by luck almost everywhere.
For example, they scored on just 13.6 percent of their power plays, while opponents scored on 17.3 percent of theirs. This is partly because they scored on just 9.4 percent of their shots on the power play, while opponents scored on 12.7 percent while on theirs.
Eric Staal consequently had his worst shooting percentage since he was a 19-year-old rookie. There's a bit of skill and a bit of luck at play there.
Carolina was also second-to-last with five post-regulation wins, going 5-9 in overtime and shootout.
With average luck it could have been a very intense ending to the season. The Hurricanes would have been one of the leagues better defensive teams, and if they were eliminated from the playoffs, it would have been on the final day.
This is one of those cases where the bad breaks were truly heartbreakers.
5. Calgary Flames: 6.4 Points
Expectations were low for the Calgary Flames, playing without Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester, Miikka Kiprusoff and Alex Tanguay.
Surprisingly their winning percentage has actually improved without those veteran superstars, from .438 to .459. What's even more surprising is that there was actually great potential for them to have done even better.
The Calgary Flames were in an awfully high percentage of close games this season, which is a great strategy for weak teams. Keep the games low-scoring and close and hope for some timely bounces.
Unfortunately for the Flames, those bounces went the other way. Fifty-four of their 73 games were decided by a single goal and/or an empty-netter, and Calgary was 10-24 on those which were decided in regulation.
If more of those games had gone the other way, or even been taken into overtime and/or the shootout before being lost, the season could have gone much differently.
While it's hard to speculate what more close-game victories might have meant to their momentum, the impact of Calgary's bad luck in the standings likely would not have been very dramatic.
A better close-game record would probably have only pulled the Flames up with teams like Nashville and Winnipeg, which are both still likely to finish about 10 points out of the playoffs.
As it stands the Flames will be in the bottom five and in a far better position draft-wise.
4. Buffalo Sabres: 7.5 Points
Most of Buffalo's bad puck luck came straight out of the gate.
Things turned around for awhile after the coaching change, but ultimately returned to the old patterns. "If we didn't have bad luck, we'd have no luck," said Ted Nolan, as reported by Kevin Freiheit of Hockey Buzz.
Within analytic circles Buffalo is well-known for its 2006-07 season, one of the luckiest on record. The team scored on 12.3 percent of their shots, had four 30-goal scorers and nearly everyone posted single-season career highs.
Those days are clearly gone. This year the Sabres scored on just 6.9 percent of their shots, down from 8.8 percent last year and the lowest NHL team shooting percentage in years. The odds of a team scoring on fewer than 8.0 percent of its shots is about 13-to-1.
Despite his 14.8 career shooting percentage, sniper Thomas Vanek scored on just 8.0 percent of his shots as a Sabre. Matt Moulson had 11 goals on 105 shots as a Sabre this year and 10 goals on 57 shots with the Islanders or the Wild.
In total the Toronto Maple Leafs have 10 players scoring on at least 11.0 percent of their shots, and the Anaheim Ducks have eight. The Sabres? They have none.
Also, Buffalo's 3-14 record in one-goal regulation-time games is the worst in the league.
Buffalo's bad luck didn't really have much of an impact on its ultimate fate this season.
Even with average luck the Sabres remain the league's worst team by almost any measure and wouldn't even catch Edmonton for 29th spot in the standings.
3. Nashville Predators: 9.7 Points
Nashville's fortunes mysteriously reversed two seasons ago.
In 2011-12 they were one of the best modern examples of a lucky team (for lack of a better term), with virtually every player enjoying career-high scoring totals.
The next year their team shooting percentage dropped from 10.3 percent to 8.8 percent and all the way down to 8.4 percent this year.
Not only will the puck not go in for the Predators, they can't keep it out either.
Their team save percentage, which was .926 and .921 in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively, dropped to .904 and .903 over the past two seasons.
You can't blame the injury to Pekka Rinne for that, since he played in almost 90 percent of the team's games in 2012-13 and is beating his backups by just .907 to .903 this season. The team was also otherwise relatively unaffected by injuries this season.
Of course, huge drops in shooting and save percentages aren't necessarily the consequence of bad luck, even when the coaching staff, the team and the system have remained largely the same. But there is so much anecdotal evidence of bad breaks.
A good example was written up by Justin Bradford of Penalty Box Radio where he summarized one contest as "a game that saw some very unlucky bounces, the Anaheim Ducks capitalized on bad puck luck for the Predators, winning 5-2."
Shortly after the Olympic break, George Scoville of On the Forecheck took an even closer look at the team's luck and concluded that "Nashville plays a reckless game in allowing luck to determine so much of the outcome."
It hasn't been all bad for the Predators, who actually started off as one of the luckier teams. That was thanks to a 5-0 record in one-goal regulation-time games, which now stands at 13-5.
On the flip side their post-regulation record of 4-11 is among the league's worst, and they're the only team without at least five overtime and/or shootout victories.
Even with average luck the Nashville Predators would probably still have missed the playoffs but probably not until the final game or two of the season.
A few lucky breaks similar to those they have received in the recent past would have been enough to make their postseason return.
2. New York Islanders: 10.4 Points
The New York Islanders are among the three unluckiest teams for the fourth time in six seasons, helping construct the argument that maybe each team's bad luck is by its own design.
While the fluke injury to John Tavares is one of those rare events that's universally conceded to be a bad break outside of a team's control, the Islanders were otherwise largely unscathed by injuries. The root cause of their bad luck this season actually lies elsewhere.
Their goalies couldn't stop a thing this year. The team save percentage dropped from an already weak .905 to an absolutely abysmal .895.
Evgeni Nabokov, who played 85 percent of last year's games, has barely played half of this year's, and posted a .903 save percentage after six years at .910 or better. Back-up Kevin Poulin dropped from a career average of .912 to .891, and Kevin Nilsson dropped from .911 (in four games) to .880.
Are these low save percentages really a result of bad luck, or is it poor goaltending skill and/or weak defensive play? Whatever it is, save percentages tend to bounce around like ping pong balls, and no one has been able to predict where they will land in any given season. Call it random variance, lack of clutch play or whatever you want, ultimately it wasn't working in the Islanders favor this year.
In the end the Islanders scored on 8.8 percent of their shots, while allowing opponents to score on 10.5 percent of theirs for one of the league's worst shot-percentage differentials of 1.7 percent.
The Islanders were also 5-13 in one-goal games decided in regulation time. That doesn't help!
It would take more than luck for the New York Islanders to be a playoff team. For that they would need goaltending and a better, deeper blue line.
Average luck would bring them up several spots in the standings, though, and, perhaps, get players excited to come to (or stay in) Long Island.
1. Florida Panthers: 12.0 Points
Almost from the outset there was virtually no question that the Florida Panthers would finish as the league's unluckiest team for the second season in a row. They were ranked 30th in luck in my early-season Bleacher Report piece and have remained there all season.
Florida is a combination of both a bad team and an unlucky team, and it's not always easy to sort out the correct portion of each.
Perhaps the real mystery is the 2008-09 season when it ranked as the league's fifth-luckiest team. The Panthers have finished no better than seventh-worst on the luck list ever since.
The Panthers were absolutely nailed on special teams. They scored on only 10.2 percent of their power-play opportunities, exactly half of last year's rate, while they continued to allow their opponents to score on 25.3 percent of theirs.
To paraphrase Tina Turner, what does luck have to do with that? Well, the Panthers generated just as many shots per minute on the power play as they allowed their opponents on theirs, but they were only half as likely to score.
Florida's shooting percentage on the power play was just 7.8 percent, while their opponents scored on 15.5 percent of their power-play shots. Unless they were playing with their eyes closed, there had to be some posts, crossbars and lucky saves in there somewhere.
Overall, the Panthers scored on 7.7 percent of all their shots, and their opponents scored on 9.8 percent of theirs. The resulting 2.1 percent gap was one of the league's widest, and their special teams is largely to blame.
The team's bad luck does end there, however. For example, the Panthers sent two players to the Olympics, Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky, and they were both among the 10 NHLers to be injured in Sochi.
Furthermore, the Panthers also had a terrible 5-13 record in one-goal games decided in regulation, a lack of timely scoring which cost them up to eight points right there.
Even with better luck Florida would still have been kept outside the playoff picture but in a far more competitive position than it is.
The Panthers would have scored far more goals, allowed slightly fewer, and ultimately moved up the standings with teams such as Ottawa, hovering a handful of points out of the final wild-card spot.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.