Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NHL Playoff Seeding and Stanley Cup Wins

Revisions to the playoff seeding system prior to the 1994 regular season awarded division winners with the top three spots in each conference, saving the final five positions for the next highest finishing teams. In the 18 seasons since, a division champion has made it to the Stanley Cup Finals every year but one, winning 14 of 18 times.

Year: Stanley Cup Finalists
2012: (8) LAK over (6) NJD
2011: (3) BOS over (1) VAN
2010: (2) CHI over (7) PHI
2009: (4) PIT over (2) DET
2008: (1) DET over (2) PIT
2007: (2) ANA over (4) OTT
2006: (2) CAR over (8) EDM
2004: (1) TBL over (6) CGY
2003: (2) NJD over (7) ANA
2002: (1) DET over (3) CAR
2001: (1) COL over (1) NJD
2000: (4) NJD over (2) DAL
1999: (1) DAL over (7) BUF
1998: (2) DET over (4) WAS
1997: (3) DET over (2) PHI
1996: (2) COL over (4) FLA
1995: (5) NJD over (1) DET
1994: (1) NYR over (7) VAN

The only non-division winners to hoist the hardware since the new seeding scenario are New Jersey (5th seed in 1995, 4th seed in 2000), Pittsburgh (4th seed in 2009) and Los Angeles (8th seed in 2012). Interestingly, New Jersey and Pittsburgh both fell short as division champions in the Final (NJD 2001, PIT 2008), yet won as wildcards.

The Presidents' Trophy winner made the Final seven times during this span (NYR 1994, DET 1995, DAL 1999, COL 2001, DET 2002, DET 2008, VAN 2011), claiming the Cup every time but twice (DET 1995, VAN 2011). Amazingly, only once have the top seeded teams in each conference met in the Final (2001). At the other end of the spectrum, Cinderellas seeded 6th or worse have found themselves there eight times (VAN 1994, BUF 1999, ANA 2003, CGY 2004, EDM 2006, PHI 2010), NJD 2012LAK 2012).  Only one has won (LAK 2012).

Last year's 2012 Stanley Cup Final represented the NHL's first all-cinderella matchup since 1994 with the 8th seeded Kings defeating the 6th seeded Devils, to become the first ever 8th seeded team to win a major North American professional sports championship.

In short, unless you're the Devils, Penguins or unprecedented Kings, your best bet to sip from Lord Stanley's mug in the modern era rests with clinching your division (14/18, 13% chance to win), leading your conference (6/18, 17% chance to win) and taking the Presidents' Trophy (5/18, 28% chance to win). That way, you'll have history on your side.

Cinderella teams tell an inspiring story but statistics show that clubs seeded 6th through 8th rarely qualify for the Final (8/36, 22% chance to qualify) and almost never go home a winner (1/36, 3% chance to win).

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