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Using Goal Differential to Predict the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Winner

Last year, I had a lot of success with my Shooting Differential article, so I wrote an updated piece for this year's Stanley Cup winner.  Taking it a step further I decided to continue the look for characteristics of Stanley Cup winning teams.  I landed on Goal Differential statistics, and the correlation with success in the playoffs cannot be discounted.

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 is very straight forward, if you consistently score more goals than you allow over an 82 game schedule - you're going to be a successful team.  I wrote a similar article last year after the 1st round and it worked out nicely with the Blackhawks winning the Cup with a 1st overall ranking.

The most important part of this the last 21 seasons, every single Stanley Cup winning team has been in the Top 10 for goal differential.  Here is how the Stanley Cup winners since 1992 have stacked up:

  • Chicago Blackhawks (2013) - Ranked 1st overall with a +1.08 differential
  • 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, team's need not apply for the Stanley Cup if they don't crack the Top 10.  What's also interesting is that just 5 of the last 21 Cup winning teams had a differential under +0.50 (a half goal per game) while still making the Top 10 cut.

Here are how the numbers stack up for the 2013-14 season:

(See previous year's goal differential stats)

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

  • Detroit Red Wings - ranked 18th overall with a -0.05 differential.  No team in 21 years has won it all with this low of a rank and goal differential.

  • We can throw out the other teams outside the Top 10, they are:
    - Columbus Blue Jackets
    - Dallas Stars
    - Montreal Canadiens
    - Philadelphia Flyers
    - Minnesota Wild

  • 76% of Stanley Cup winners have a Goal Differential of +0.50 or higher, this year there are just 5 teams (Boston, Anaheim, St. Louis, Chicago, and San Jose).  The Bruins are the only Eastern team.

It's your call if you limit yourself to teams in the Top 10, or stick with teams in the Top 10 AND that have a differential of +0.50 of higher.  

I hope this helps you narrow down your picks for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. There will come a time when this theory is proven wrong, but I am rolling with the 'if it ain't broke don't fix' data driven analysis.   If you need more help, check out my analysis using Shot Differential to determine the Stanley Cup winner.

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