Why the Stanley Cup is one team’s to lose

Updated: April 12, 2017 at 10:01 am by Shawn Reis

Several teams check off some of the boxes
of a true Cup contender. But usually, the winner of the Cup checks off
all of them. It’s why so many people had Pittsburgh winning the Cup last
year, and Chicago before that, and Los Angeles before that, and so on.
This year there’s only one team that checks off all of those boxes, and
it’s the Washington Capitals.

First of all, this comes
down to common sense. You can even narrow the field down significantly by asking yourself these basic questions: which team has each of a number one center, a number one defenseman, a good goalie, and good possession numbers? You can already nearly guarantee yourself any Cup winner will fit this criteria, and it narrows the field of potential winners significantly. Let’s take a look at some numbers though and do a process of elimination exercise.

Warning: this is arbitrary and reaches ESPN Stats levels of specificity. It’s imperfect. The point to be made here, though, is that we’re setting a baseline for potential Cup champions based on past winners.

To set that baseline, I took a look at every Cup winner since 1998 (minus the Blackhawks in 2013 because of the lockout-shortened season) and looked at how they ranked in various statistical categories. If a team from this season didn’t meet the baseline requirement set by the past winners, they were removed from the “potential winners” list. Here are how the Cup winners since 1998 fared:

  • Every team had at least 95 points. Remaining teams that don’t fit this criteria: Calgary, Nashville
  • Every team had a 5v5 goals for ratio of at least 0.95. Remaining teams that don’t fit this criteria: None
  • Every team ranked top six in the league in either goals for or goals against. If a team didn’t fit this criteria, they were top eight in the league in both categories. Remaining teams that don’t fit this criteria: Ottawa, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis
  • Every team was at least top six in the league in either shots for, shots against, or both. Remaining teams that don’t fit this criteria: Montreal, Columbus, New York, Minnesota, Anaheim, Edmonton

We can also use advanced stats as far back as the 07-08 season to get a clearer picture. For example:

  • Every team had a CF% of at least 48.1%. Remaining teams that don’t fit this criteria: None
  • Since the trade deadline, each team had a CF% that ranked top eight in the league. Remaining teams that don’t fit this criteria: Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Jose

This leaves one team: the Washington Capitals. Like I said, we’re getting to absurd levels of specificity so it’s unsurprising that there’s only one team that fits the bill. The point here isn’t so much that the only possible Cup winner this season is Washington. The point is that no matter what category you use, Washington fits the baseline. They check off every single box on the list. For that reason, they should be considered heavy Cup favorites. After all, every previous winner fits this specific criteria as well.