Even if the NHL’s plan to stage playoffs does end up happening, which will continue to be questionable with the COVID crisis, it will be an extremely unpredictable scenario under a unique format. Despite that, advanced stats can point to the most likely teams to succeed. Based on the champions since the lockout, I looked to eliminate teams and identify who will be the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Champions.
Past Stanley Cup Champions
Above are how each season’s Stanley cup champions ranked in several key stats, as well as what percentage of their wins came in regulation, regulation + OT, and shootouts. We’ll use these to identify trends and eliminate teams.
Of the champions since 2005-06, only one team has had less than 70% of their wins come in regulation. That makes sense – winning in regulation indicates a stronger team that is more likely to be successful in a playoff format, even if the regular season points format doesn’t necessarily reward them more. The lone outlier was a very strong Blackhawks team, which makes theirs look more like an outlier than evidence that this isn’t a strong indicator. Based on that, I’ll eliminate any teams who didn’t get at least 70% of their wins in regulation.
Teams Eliminated: Islanders, Flames, Canadiens
Goals For and Against
This one seems obvious: being better at scoring and avoiding goals against obviously indicates a stronger team and better chance of winning. However, what stands out in looking at past champions is that there’s not necessarily a right way to have your team structured to win; some rank high in Goals For and some in Goals Against, but none rank poorly in both. Because of that, any team that’s outside of the top ten in both is eliminated.
Teams Eliminated: Golden Knights, Oilers, Hurricanes, Predators, Wild, Blackhawks
PP and PK
Similar to Goals For and Against, though in this case there is a bit of a stronger trend among the two: it’s very rare for a champion to be poor on the penalty kill. That makes sense given the tighter checking and lower scoring typically seen in the playoffs. However, again it’s very rare for any team to be bad in both areas – we’ll eliminate anyone who is.
Teams Eliminated: Avalanche, Flyers, Stars, Blue Jackets, Jets
High Dangers Chance % and PDO
Of the advanced stats, the one that stands out the most to me as being a consistent indicator of playoff success is High Danger Chance Percentage. In a situation where teams are looking for any opportunity to generate offense, the ability to create dangerous opportunities is of utmost importance.
The teams that have succeeded without this have had a high PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage) that season. Typically it’s assumed that all teams would regress towards a PDO of 100, but this could instead indicate a team with both strong goaltending and great goal scorers. The Capitals are a great example of this – they rode a hot year from Braden Holtby and strong finishing from Ovechkin, Oshie, and company.
Two teams this year don’t have a strong PDO to overcome their lack of creating chances for opposite reasons: the Panthers have struggled with goaltending all year, and the Coyotes aren’t efficient in converting their opportunities.
Teams Eliminated: Panthers, Coyotes
We’re left with eight teams that weren’t eliminated by any of the other metrics, and from there it’s a matter of identifying the strongest remaining team. One team stands out: top ten in both goals for and goals against, strong Fenwick and Corsi, and the strongest remaining team in xG%, scoring chance %, high danger %, and PDO. If they can find a way to overcome the obstacle of playing a team in their first round whose just coming off a play-in round, the Tampa Bay Lighting will overcome last season’s disappointment to lift this year’s Stanley Cup.