The better a team fares in goal differential during a given season, the more likely they are to end up hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of that campaign. But just because a team has a great has a great goal differential doesn’t mean they’re a lock for glory. Which teams have capitalized best in years they have dominated competition?
If goals are the currency of the league, then the Stanley Cup is what teams are saving their pennies for. Great teams have great goal differentials and those teams tend to win the Stanley Cup. The better a team’s goal differential is, the more likely they are to win it all. To show that, here’s every team’s era adjusted goal difference compared to how often those teams won the Cup.
For reference, a plus-50 season was equivalent to roughly plus-33 last season.
It’s an unmistakable pattern that should be pretty obvious to most: the Stanley Cup is reserved for the great teams. The problem is that in a 30-team league, there’s five or six of those teams each year, and clearly the best team doesn’t always win – and that’s using any measure, not just this one. Maybe the Cup winner outworked those other contenders more, maybe it was just the hockey gods on their side, the point is that in a relatively short playoffs there’s outside factors that dictate who wins and who loses, not just talent. That’s what makes it one of the hardest championships to win, because sometimes being the best isn’t good enough. So if every team has at least some chance to win, let’s measure that chance and show how many Cups a team “deserved” to win by now. To do that, I compared Cups won by different goal difference groups and assigned those probabilities to each team that made the playoffs throughout history. Basically, each team gets a “share” of the Cup in any given year with the best teams getting a bigger share to highlight how much they “deserved” to win that year. There’s obviously more to share in earlier years when there were fewer playoff teams too. This isn’t meant to discredit any championships or dynasties; it’s more about highlighting which teams have capitalized most on their opportunities (more Cups than they were “expected” to win) and which teams haven’t (less Cups than they were “expected” to win). In fact, knowing how difficult or unlikely a championship run was should make it even sweeter. As for using the actual chart (located below), it’s just like the goal difference chart from last week. On the “by season” chart, click on a team from the drop down menu on the upper left to see their timeline and click individual bars to see the total. The second chart features a running total of expected Cups with an adjustable year range. Clicking on a team (or two or more) from the scrollable menu on the upper left highlights that team and shows them against the rest of the league. Looking at the whole picture from 1927 to 2015 doesn’t say much that we don’t already know, but changing the year range makes it easier to identify trends and show the most dominant teams from different eras or decades. Fans in certain cities may not want to read any further.
Here’s some interesting things I noticed: Surely the first thing anyone did was check how many Cups the Leafs should’ve won since their last win in 1967. It’s roughly 1.2, which is terrible for two reasons: 1.2 is the lowest for any team that’s been around since 1967, and it’s 1.2 more than they’ve actually won. Noted playoff chokers in San Jose aren’t even at one expected Cup despite consistent greatness over a decade. Since the Thornton era began they’ve averaged a seven percent chance at winning every year (not including last season). That should highlight just how difficult it is to win currently and dispel any choker narratives. Seven percent may not seem high, but the current dynasty in Chicago has averaged a 10 percent chance since their first playoff appearance since 2009. Since the lockout began, the top team has usually topped out at around 20 percent and few teams are consistently at that level. That means the statistical best team wins roughly once every five seasons, which is consistent with previous research. Since 1928, Montreal has won 22 Cups, but the sum of their probabilities totals just under 16 which means they capitalized big on their best chances to win – granted, it was a lot easier to capitalize when there were only three other teams in the playoffs. On the other end of the Original 6 spectrum is Boston, who’s won six Cups, but likely deserved closer to 10. As for teams that don’t have a Cup yet, Buffalo has been the unluckiest. They should’ve won at least two Cups since they got their skates in the crease during expansion in 1968. Same thing goes for St. Louis. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim all have a Cup thanks to winning when they had their best shot to do so. Let us know what else you find in the comments. Maybe this season will have the odds in your team’s favour.