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2015 Stanley Cup Finals - Three Questions Answered


Throughout the 2015 playoffs, I answered some of the most burning questions in hockey. I looked toward the historical data to understand if the past could tell us something about the future. With enough analysis, you begin to grasp why a team like Minnesota may have trouble getting over the hump with Chicago, why the Rangers were behind the eight ball solely because they lost in last year’s Stanley Cup Final and why Tampa Bay and Chicago were most likely to win the Conference Finals as a result of the goaltending matchups.

It turns out that the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning will face off in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night and so many more questions are being bandied about. Will Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks cement their legacy with another ring? Can Steve Yzerman’s vision come to fruition so soon, as young, skilled and fearless players like Tyler Johnson continue to carry the Lightning? And can these memorable playoffs build off the excitement of two do-or-die Conference Final games with one more dramatic round?

1. CAN WE REFER TO THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS AS A DYNASTY IF THEY WIN THE STANLEY CUP?

Coach Q’s record (including playoffs) since joining the Blackhawks four games in to the 2008-09 regular season is a mindboggling 385-197-65. He’s nearly posted twice as many wins as losses; a feat rarely accomplished in today’s NHL. Of course, it helps when your lineup is bolstered with perennial all-stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. And I could have kept going.

There’s little doubt that Quenneville already has one foot into the door of the hall of fame, but would a third Stanley Cup cement his legacy and those of his star players. NHL legacies were far easier to spot 25 and 35 years ago as the sport was replete with dynasties – the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers come to mind. But expansion and free agency has transformed The concept of a dynasty into a thing of the past. And we must now search for new definitions of the term.

I decided to accept this task with the certain parameters. I only evaluated teams following the playoff realignment of 1994. Also, I looked over a team’s playoff history over six-year windows. Why six years? For convenience, since six seasons have passed between Chicago’s 2010 banner and this year. To evaluate each team, I assigned a number to each team’s final result between 1994 and 2015: Missed playoffs (0), lost in the first round (1), lost in the second round (2), lost the Conference Finals (3), lost the Cup Final (4) and won the Stanley Cup (5). I then averaged the figures over the six-year period.

For example, the Chicago Blackhawks have performed as follows starting in 2010:

2010 – Won Stanley Cup (5)
2011 & 2012 – Lost in Conference Semifinals (i.e., first round) (1 + 1)
2013 – Won Stanley Cup again (5)
2014 – Lost in Conference Finals (3)
2015 – At least, reached Stanley Cup Final (4, for now perhaps)

The total for the six seasons is 19 points which averages to 3.17 over the period of time. The following chart summarizes the teams with that went deepest into the playoffs on average over a six-year period starting in 1999 (i.e., the period of 1994-99).

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Each of the teams shown qualified, on average, for the Conference Final over the particular six-year period. Note that there is some overlap with the Red Wings, for example, whereby their stretch of excellence between 1994-2002 extended beyond only one six-year period.

The Blackhawks will remain rightfully among these great teams of this generation even if they are to lose to the Lightning. However, with a third banner in six seasons, Chicago would jump up to a 3.33 average and a tie with Colorado’s 1996-2001 teams and Detroit’s stretches from 1997-2002 and from 1994-99. Now you can begin the comparisons: the leadership and unquestioned skill of Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Jonathan Toews; the determination and point production of Peter Forsberg, Brendan Shanahan, and Patrick Kane; and the versatility and ability to control a game of Nicklas Lidstrom, Rob Blake and Duncan Keith. Each comparison would certainly cement each Blackhawk’s legacy in the Hall of Fame and deem the Blackhawks to be this generation’s dynasty.

2. HOW MANY MORE GOALS DOES TYLER JOHNSON NEED TO SCORE TO BE CONSIDERED AMONG THE BEST PLAYOFF PRODUCERS IN RECENT MEMORY?

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Johnson. Does one of these names not quite belong? What if I said, instead: Fernando Pisani, Johan Franzen, Tyler Johnson? You may then ask me why I have diverted from discussing the great NHL playoff goal scorers in recent memory. But I assure you. This is what all these men have in common.

Tyler Johnson has torn through the 2015 NHL playoffs like a man on a mission. His 12-goal performance to this point hasn’t been unfathomable – after all, he did notch 29 goals during the regular season. However, his per game clip, has bumped up from 0.38 goals/game during the regular season to 0.60 in the playoffs. That is nearly equivalent to being a 50-goal contributor over an 82-game schedule.

The chart below compares Johnson’s goal totals after the Conference Finals to the number of tallies racked up by other postseason heroes since after the lost 2004-05 season. As you can see, Johnson already matches up with the best post season producers in recent memory. And Johnson and the Lightning still have the Stanley Cup Final to play.

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With three more goals, Johnson can surpass all but Sidney Crosby’s 15 markers for the Cup winning 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. With one more after that, he passes Sid The Kid and sits with the most goals since Joe Sakic potted 18 for the Colorado Avalanche on the way to their first championship in 1996. Of course, Patrick Kane isn’t too far behind with 10 goals so far this postseason.

For some perspective, I have altered the chart to add the total points each sniper finished the playoffs with in their respective year. The blue bars continue to represent goals, whereas the line represents points.

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Johnson currently has recorded 21 points these playoffs. This places him above a point per game which is a tremendous rate of production considering only three players exceeded 82 points during the 2014-15 regular season. That being said, Johnson does have his work cut out for him if he would like to hit the 30-point plateau this postseason and be spoken in the same breath as some of the top playoff point producers of this generation.

3. WHEN DOES OVERTIME TYPICALLY END?

If you’re like me, you could watch NHL playoff overtime hockey all day long. The intensity. The pressure. The tension. Two overtimes – no problem. Three? Bring it on. Four overtime periods – well okay, that’s a lot, but I still love it! But then the real world sinks in and you remember that you have that early morning meeting. What goes through your mind then? One thing. “When will this game end?”

I decided to do the math for you. This can be your cheat sheet for knowing how many more minutes are left. No one wants you shutting off the television a few seconds before Marcus Kruger knocks the puck in to end some marathon overtime. Not that I am speaking from experience. I heard of that happening, um, to a friend.

Based on data back to the 2006 playoffs, the first chart below displays the probability of an overtime ending in the first extra frame, the second or beyond.

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Since 2006, approximately four out of every five NHL games are over within the first overtime. About one in every six lasts two extra frames and only one in 20 go any further. But this data can be looked at even closer. For the next chart, I split each overtime into five minute segments and counted how many games ended within these periods of time. Note that there were not enough data points to perform the analysis on games lasting three or four extra periods.

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As you would expect, the probability of an overtime winner being scored decreases every five minutes. In fact, 38% of the goals scored in the first five minutes occur during the initial two minutes of overtime. There was one exception that intuitively makes sense. There is a higher probability that a goal will be scored in the first five minutes of double overtime than the last five minutes of the first extra stanza. Teams begin to play with extra caution and conservatism to avoid surrendering the big goal when they are the most tired. But, once the new period begins, all bets are off.

I wondered if the 2015 playoffs were any different. Could there be any patterns this year that would lead us to believe that historical data would not apply? The following chart looks at the average end to overtime for each playoff since 2006.

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The 2015 season is, in fact, at the average length of overtime for the period since 2006 (12:29). The 2007 season appears to be an outlier as the average is heavily affected by a four-overtime marathon between the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks which didn’t end until Henrik Sedin scored over 18 minutes into the fourth extra frame.

The Stanley Cup Final is a little bit different. There is more riding on each game, on each face off, on each shift. Since 2006, the overtime during the Finals have an average length of 17:47 as teams take longer to feel each other out. As for me, I’ll take this sudden death, playoff overtime as much as I can get it. Because, once Gary Bettman hands over the hardware, we will have to wait patiently for its return next spring.

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.

 



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