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Winning Hockey Trends


In the NHL, as with all pro sports, it’s all about the ‘W.’ Winning is the key to continuing on to post-season play and eventually raising Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Since the Lockout (On Goal Analysis’ strategic focus), who has the highest average in the ‘W’ category when you take season ending points and simply divide by two? If ranked in Conference order, how do they look? And in the cornucopia of suggestions for new and/or different playoff entry formulas, is there one more suggestion which could boost the intense competition in the League and how would that have played out since the Lockout?

If you take wins since the 2005-06 season and average them, how do the teams rank by conferences? Some of the results might surprise you a bit.

Eastern Conference Winners

Where every two Overtime and Shootout Losses equals a ‘W,’ here is how the Eastern Conference stacks up from most to least average wins since the Lockout (CurTrend below is the current trend the team holds as of the end of last season. MaxTrend is the maximum consecutive-seasons trend a team has held since the Lockout):

 

What? Last year’s Stanley Cup Champion, who has been in the playoffs four of the six post-Lockout years, ranks number nine in terms of average wins per season? Philadelphia ranked number 10 after five post-Lockout trips into the playoffs? You would expect Pittsburgh, a 5-for-6 playoff entrant, would be high. Are you surprised to see Buffalo, who is only 4-for-6 in making the playoffs, sitting at number one? Would it interest you to know before last season New Jersey was averaging 51.6 wins per year which would have made them number one had they landed anywhere near 50 wins in 2010-11? If Toronto, for instance, racks up five more ‘Ws’ over last season’s output, Maple Leafs fans may just see their team in the post season this year. Can Carolina and Florida win enough to land in the post-season?

Past the slight shock there, what are the trends of note?

In the Eastern Conference, the average trend is for no more than 2.267 seasons in a row Up or Down in relation to the previous season’s wins. Thereafter, an opposite trend occurs with no team remaining more than three years on one bearing. The current unbroken trend is for more than two seasons in one direction. If that is the case, who should be up or down this season? Likely going up in the total W’s column are BOS, CAR, FLA, MTL, NJD, NYR, PHI and TOR. And possibly going downward are BUF,
NYI, OTT, PIT, TBL, WSH and WPG.

You also have to note a drop in the number of wins has not always eliminated a team from the playoffs. That means a few more losses for Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington might not be a disaster this season. But Buffalo might disappoint after all of the off-season improvements and not make it into the post-season if they cannot beat the trending odds.

One big note here is that although Carolina, Pittsburgh and Boston have captured every other cup since the Lockout, none of their Stanley Cup-winning seasons were the same one in which they had their highest number of wins in a single year. And attempting to predict Eastern Stanley Cup winners in
seasons immediately before victory is not possible because they look like this: CAR – Up 2; PIT – Down 2; and BOS – Down 1 and Up 1.

How does the West look?

Western Conference Winners

Here is how the Western Conference shakes out:

 

Not a whole lot of surprise here. Of interest, however, is how Dallas and Minnesota can rank in the top eight teams of the ultra-competitive Western Conference when neither team has made the playoffs
for the last three consecutive seasons. It speaks to both averaging above 50 relative wins per season in their playoff years. Los Angeles and Phoenix have done really well over their last two playoff appearance seasons. But their ensuing years saw mid to upper-30’s or low 40’s in the W column, bringing their averages down. And Colorado stands out because four of the last six years were exactly 47.5’ers.

Trend wise, the West’s average is 2.533 seasons in one direction with a high of four trending seasons. (Leading up to their Stanley Cup victory, Chicago was on a constantly improving glide path for four straight seasons.) Another difference is while four Eastern teams displayed a maximum trend of three consecutive seasons, there are eight Western teams in the same boat. In both conferences the split between upward or downward trend is almost even.

Who will possibly rise or fall this season? If two-to-three is the West’s marker for change, then upward trending in the W column this season are ANA, CGY, CBJ, DET, MIN, SJS, STL and possibly EDM. Trending downward are CHI, COL, DAL, LAK, NSH, PHX, and VAN. If these calls are correct, ANA, DET, SJS and VAN should be in decent shape based on last season’s point totals barring some kind of implosion. CHI, LAK, NSH and PHX are on the fence and must over achieve to stay in the playoff hunt. The Playoffs may not be out of reach of CGY, but what will keep the on-the-fencers in the post-season are if the upward trends of STL (4 – 5), MIN (4.5 – 5.5) and CBJ (5 – 5.5) cannot increase W’s by the amount indicated in parentheses.

One major difference from the East is that Anaheim and Chicago’s greatest number of wins in a season came from their Stanley Cup-winning year. Detroit’s post-Lockout championship season came from their
second highest win total since the Lockout. So most franchise wins is therefore almost an indicator of Western Stanley Cup Champion material. But like the East, predicting the Western Stanley Cup Champion in the preceding seasons by their trends does not work: ANA – Up 2; DET – Down 1 and Up 1; and CHI – Up 5.

Summary

Based on average wins per season since the Lockout, who are the Top Eight teams in each conference? The analysis indicated it is not always who you might think strictly by the number of times teams have entered the post-season.

For both conferences, the average number of consecutive seasons a trend upward or downward occurs is between 2.3 and 2.5 times. That fact leads you to surmise a Buffalo team that fails to beat the odds might find themselves replaced by New Jersey, Carolina or Toronto in the East and a slumping Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and/or Phoenix might be replaced by Calgary, Dallas, Minnesota and/or St. Louis.

You cannot count on a team acquiring their maximum number of post-Lockout wins in a season as an indicator they will win the Stanley Cup in the East. But it has happened twice in the West for three Cup winners. With the NHL Champion alternating between conferences annually, does that mean San Jose, on a likely upward trend, equals or surpasses their previous high of 58.5 wins in 2008/9 enroute to a Cup victory?

Only playing out the season will tell how accurate the trends are…

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