blank'/> THE PUCK REPORT: April 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

NHL Stanley Cup Playoff First Round Upsets

If you think 7th and 8th seeded wildcard teams teams don't have a fighting chance against the 1st and 2nd seeded division winners in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, you'd be wrong. The mighty NHL underdog is no stranger to serving up early round upsets.

Since the introduction of the conference playoff format in 1994, opening round upsets have been ubiquitous with 30 of the 84 such 1st vs. 8th and 2nd vs. 7th series being won by lower seeds. That's a better than 1 in 3 chance (36%) of underdog success at the expense of division winners.

Despite abandoning the conference playoff format in favor of a divisional playoff format for the 2014 postseason, top finishers remain paired with the weakest qualifiers in the opening round, with the top division winner in each conference playing the weakest wildcard (i.e., 1st vs. 8th) and the other division winner playing the remaining wildcard (i.e., 2nd vs. 7th).

The chart below shows series records by year for 1st vs. 8th and 2nd vs. 7th opening round matchups, with annual and cumulative totals.

Year       1st vs. 8th    2nd vs. 7th       Total      
1994       
1-1     
0-2      
1-3     
1995
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
1996
2-0     
2-0      
4-0     
1997
2-0     
1-1      
3-1     
1998
1-1     
0-2      
1-3     
1999
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
2000
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
2001     
2-0     
0-2      
2-2     
2002
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
2003
2-0     
1-1      
3-1     
2004
2-0     
1-1      
3-1     
2006
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
2007
2-0     
2-0      
4-0     
2008
2-0     
2-0      
4-0     
2009
1-1     
2-0      
3-1     
2010
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
2011
2-0     
2-0      
4-0     
2012
1-1     
1-1      
2-2     
2013
2-0     
0-2      
2-2     
2014
2-0     
1-1      
3-1     
2015
2-0     
1-1      
3-1     
Total
32-10     
22-20      
54-30     

In 11 of the past 21 postseasons both top seeded teams prevailed, including 4 in the past 5 years. The remaining 10 series saw a split. Never have both top seeded teams been eliminated in the opening round.  Put another way, top finishers have a 32-10 record during this span, representing a 76% success rate over their 8th seeded foes.

Presidents' Trophy winners have survived the first round 16 of 21 times (76%) falling only five times during this period (St. Louis 2000, Detroit 2006, San Jose 2009, Washington 2010, Vancouver 2012).

Of the 2nd seeded teams, 5 of 21 times (1996, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011) both won their opening round and 4 of 21 times (1994, 1998, 2001, 2013) each were eliminated. The remaining 12 of 21 postseasons saw a split with a 2nd seeded team advancing in one series and the 7th seed prevailing in the other. In sum, 2nd seeded teams have a 22-20 record during this period, representing a mere 52% margin of success.

In only 4 of the past 21 playoffs (1996, 2007, 2008, 2011) have all four 1st and 2nd seeded teams advanced past the opening round, representing a lowly 19% chance of collective success. That said, never before have all four favorites been eliminated in the first round.

More than ever, regular season point differentials between playoff qualifiers is narrowing, blurring the lines between favorites and underdogs. During the 82 game seasons from 1994 until the 2004 Lockout, 7 of 10 had at least a 30 point gap, compared to only 2 of the past 9 such seasons since. The largest spread during this span is 53 points (1996) and the smallest 16 points (2015), with a 21 season average of a 28 point differential. The last time there was a spread of less than 16 points was in 1965 when just four teams qualified for the postseason.
In short, the conference's best usually survive but others are exposed. But that could be changing in the NHL's modern age of postseason parity. Stay tuned.

* See also NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-0.
* See also NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-1.
* See also NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7 History.
* See also NHL Playoff Seeding and Stanley Cup Wins.
* See also Presidents' Winners & Defending Cup Champions.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Canucks Game 7 Overtime & Stanley Cup Finals

A curious correlation has emerged between playing a Game 7 overtime match against the Vancouver Canucks and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. Specifically, to date, winning the former has ensured an appearance in the latter.

Prior to the 2015 Playoffs, the Canucks met the Calgary Flames in three such overtime affairs and the Chicago Blackhawks once. Each time the victor qualified for the Cup Finals, hoisting once (1989) and losing three times (1994, 2004, 2011).  Interestingly, each Cup Final loss also occurred in a Game 7.

Year       Matchup                                   OT Winner
1989   Calgary over Vancouver   Joel Otto 
1994 Vancouver over Calgary   Pavel Bure
2004 Calgary over Vancouver Martin Gelinas
2011 Vancouver over Chicago Alex Burrows





Tonight the Canucks and Flames skate in Game 6 of their opening round series.  If the Canucks can force a Game 7 and push it to overtime, perhaps history will repeat sending the series winner to the Cup Final.

* See also NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7 History.
* See also Today In NHL History - Kirk McLean's Game 7 Save.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Lottery Results

Tonight Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presented the NHL Draft lottery results live on CBC, with the top overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, to be held on June 26-27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida, being awarded to the perennially awful Edmonton Oilers.
The actual lottery was conducted 30 minutes earlier in Rogers Sportnet's Toronto studios. This video from 2013, featuring NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offers a detailed explanation of the process.
Designed to guard against teams purposely losing regular season games to improve their draft position, the weighted lottery system implemented prior to the 1995 NHL Entry Draft provides weaker teams with a greater chance of a higher pick without any guarantees for poor performance.

Until 2013, only the league's five worst regular season teams were eligible for the top overall pick, allowing teams to advance up to four spots and fall only one spot in the lottery. That changed in 2013 with all non-playoff teams eligible for the top overall pick albeit with their statistical likelihood directly tied to their final regular season standing. A team can still only fall one spot in lottery position.

In 2014, additional changes were implemented for the lottery to reflect he competitive balance of the league, with more balanced odds being introduced in 2015 and separate draws in 2016 for the first four positions ( as opposed to just for the top overall pick), allowing the league's worst regular season performer to slip as low as fourth overall (as opposed to just second overall under the current regime).  

For the fourth year in a row, the top pick went to someone other than the statistical favorite with the last place Buffalo Sabres edged out by the lottery winning Oilers. The win gives Edmonton their fourth top overall pick in six years (Taylor Hall 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 2011, Nail Yakupov 2012).

Other than Edmonton pushing Buffalo and Arizona down two spots, the remaining clubs placed as predicted by their statistical probabilities. The chart below shows final draft position by team and their accompanying odds of having won first pick overall in the lottery.

Draft Position        Likelihood of 1st Pick
1. Edmonton  
11.5%
2. Buffalo
20.0%
3. Arizona
13.5%
4. Toronto
9.5%
5. Carolina
8.5%
6. New Jersey
7.5%
7. Philadelphia
6.5%
8. Columbus
6.0%
9. San Jose
5.0%
10. Colorado
3.5%
11. Florida              
3.0%
12. Dallas
2.5%
13. Los Angeles
2.0%
14. Boston
1.0%


Remaining NHL Entry Draft positions are set after the playoffs with the Stanley Cup champion and runner-up picking 30th and 29th, respectively. Conference finalists (28th, 27th) as well as division winners and wildcard teams (26th through 15th) are then ordered among their respective subgroup based on regular season standings, positioning teams with better regular season records to pick later than their peers.

* See also 2017 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2016 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2014 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2013 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2012 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2011 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2010 NHL Draft Lottery Results.
* See also 2009 NHL Draft Lottery Results.