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Goal Differential per Game: If You're Not Top 10, No Stanley Cup

Building off of the success of our Shooting Differential article - I decided to continue the look for characteristics of Stanley Cup winning teams.  All 3 teams with a negative shot differential were knocked off in the first round of the playoffs.  I say that with some confidence, as it took Game 7's and a miracle 3rd period comeback from the Boston Bruins to got 3-0 on our picks.

One core of advanced hockey analysis is shot differential statistics, but we decided to take a look at Goal Differential stats too, the correlation is uncanny.  Every Stanley Cup winning team in the last 20 years has finished the regular season Top 10 in Goal Differential (per game)

Goal Differential (per game)
It's a fairly simple statistic, you take the average goals per game and subtract the average goals against per game...what's left is your differential.  The theory makes sense, you consistently score more goals than you allow and you're going to be a successful teams.

In the last 20 seasons, every single Stanley Cup winning team has been in the Top 10.  Here is how the Stanley Cup winners since 1993 have stacked up:

  • Los Angeles Kings (2012) – Ranked 9th overall with a +0.22 differential 
  • Boston Bruins (2011) – Ranked 2nd overall with a +0.67 differential
  • Chicago Blackhawks (2010) – Ranked 2nd overall with a +0.72 differential
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) – Ranked 9th overall with a +0.30 differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (2008) – Ranked 1st overall with a +0.89 differential
  • Anaheim Ducks (2007) – Ranked 6th overall with a +0.68  differential
  • Carolina Hurricanes (2006) – Ranked 10th overall with a +0.34 differential
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (2004) – Ranked 3rd overall with a +0.65 differential
  • New Jersey Devils (2003) – Ranked 6th overall with a +0.61 differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (2002) – Ranked 1st overall with a +0.78  differential
  • Colorado Avalanche (2001) – Ranked 2nd overall with a +0.95 differential
  • New Jersey Devils (2000) – Ranked 4th overall with a +0.59 differential
  • Dallas Stars (1999) – Ranked 1st overall with a +0.83 differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (1998) – Ranked 3rd overall with +0.66 differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (1997) – Ranked 3rd overall, a +0.68 differential
  • Colorado Avalanche (1996) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +1.05 differential
  • New Jersey Devils (1995) – Ranked 10th overall, a +0.31 differential
  • New York Rangers (1994) – Ranked 3rd overall, a +0.81 differential
  • Montreal Canadians (1993) – Ranked 8th overall, a +0.55 differential
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (1992) – Ranked 5th overall, a +0.44 differential

As we mentioned, need not apply for the Stanley Cup if you didn't crack the Top 10.  What's also interesting is that that just 5 of the last 20 Cup winning teams had a diffferential under +0.50 (a half goal per game)

Albeit a shortened 48 game season, here are how the the numbers stack up for the 2013 season:


 Looking at this year's differential's, here are a couple things that stand out:

  • San Jose Sharks - ranked 14th overall with a +0.08 differential.  No team in 20 years has won it all with this low of a rank and goal differential.
  • Ottawa Senators and Detroit Redwings - tied for 10th are just on the bubble.  
  • 75% of Stanley Cup winners have a Goal Differential of +0.50 or higher, this year there are just 2 teams that acheived that (Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins)

Enjoy the second round of the playoffs hockey fans...we aren't picking a winner, but hopefully this has helped narrow down your list of candidates.


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