Picking this year’s Stanley Cup winner

Updated: April 11, 2018 at 1:31 pm by Christiaan Conradie

It is my favorite time of year again. Lots of new teams compared to last year, so it will be an exciting one. There are some great matchups. Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia should be especially entertaining. Not to speak of Las Vegas making the playoffs in their inaugural season, and looking damn good doing it. Let’s dive in and see who are contenders and who are pretenders. Just like prior years, this article will focus on unadjusted shot and goal differentials (in all situations) from the regular season to predict playoff success. Previous years’ articles can be found here and here. Numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey.

A quick reminder on the 4 quadrants of this scatterplot:

  • Top left (Quadrant 1) – Teams with a negative shot differential and a positive goal differential.
  • Top Right (Quadrant 2) – Teams with a positive shot and goal differential.
  • Bottom left (Quadrant 3) – Teams with a negative shot and goal differential.
  • Bottom right (Quadrant 4) – Teams with a positive shot differential and a negative goal differential.

Teams who made the playoffs are marked in orange. Historically almost all modern Stanley Cup Champions are Quadrant 2 teams. This year a whopping 8 teams find themselves outside of Quadrant 2. Despite their dominant seasons and winning their conferences, Tampa Bay, Washington and Nashville are Quadrant 1 teams. Tampa Bay and Nashville practically broke even on the shot clock, but Washington got heavily outshot all season. History is not on their side when it comes to going all the way. Cup winners have consistently been in the shot differential top 10. The other teams that immediately stand out are Caroline and Boston. Carolina (despite consistently outshooting the opposition) has been plagued by bad goaltending (save percentage of .893, worst in the league) and bad shooting percentage (8.09%, good for 28th). If they can have even average shooting and goaltending numbers, they should improve drastically next year. Boston on the other hand has enjoyed good (but not great) shooting and goaltending numbers, 10th in both. More on this later on in the article.

The Past

Here are the last 5 Stanley Cup Champions and their shot differential standings:

2017 – Pittsburgh – 9th

2016 – Pittsburgh – 2nd

2015 – Chicago – 4th

2014 – Los Angeles – 3rd

2013 – Chicago – 2nd

And looking at goal differentials for cup winners:

2017 – Pittsburgh – 4th

2016 – Pittsburgh – 2nd

2015 – Chicago – 5th

2014 – Los Angeles – 7th

2013 – Chicago – 1st

The numbers are pretty clear. All quadrant 2 teams.  Furthermore if you are not top 10 in shot- and goal differential, you are likely not going to win the cup. This has been said in both previous playoff prediction articles, but it bears repeating: In the last 21+ seasons, only Pittsburgh (2009) and Boston (2011) have won cups while being outside the top 10 shot differential.

The Present

Here is the top 10 teams in each category for the 2017-2018 season:

Teams that appear on both lists who also made the playoffs: Boston, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Las Vegas. Just like last year, there only 4 teams who fall into both top 10s. If history is any indicator, one of these teams will hoist the cup in June.

Digging Deeper

Not much to separate these teams. We can look at PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage):

Boston – 101.1 (10th)

Pittsburgh – 99.9 (18th)

San Jose – 100 (15th)

Las Vegas – 101 (11th)

PDO regresses to 100 very aggressively, so teams riding a high PDO can expect their luck to run out, while teams with a low PDO can expect a few more lucky bounces down the road. This year the team with the highest PDO is Nashville, rolling in at 102.2. This might not seem like much, but that number is not sustainable. It also helps explain how they managed to win their division despite a pedestrian shooting differential: luck. The key to making a deep playoff run and ultimately winning the cup is playing a sustainable brand of winning hockey. Last season Washington was red hot, sporting a PDO of 102.7 entering the post season. We all know how that story end. The Rangers (prior to this year) are another great example of a teaming riding a high PDO into the playoffs, but not being able to go the distance. With all that being said, there is not much of a spread in terms of PDO between the 4 teams picked to win the cup. Pittsburgh is the most interesting team from this perspective though, having a PDO below 100. If Murray can bounce back they are going to be scary.

Conclusions

One of Boston, Pittsburgh, San Jose or Las Vegas will win it all this year. Based on the numbers alone, there is no justifiable way to call any of these teams pretenders. They have rock solid numbers or none were riding lucky streaks.

  • Boston has the more difficult path to the cup compared to Pittsburgh. They face a fast Toronto team who can exploit their aging core. Boston will also have to beat Tampa Bay in the second round.
  • Pittsburgh on the other hand has the easiest road to the cup. Philadelphia will not be able to keep up with them, and they will probably face a Washington team who is but a shadow of its former self. They also have the lowest PDO of the final 4, which is unlikely to stay there considering they have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel. They are set for another deep run.
  • San Jose will have a rough time with Anaheim (should beat them though), but they will not be able to get past Las Vegas. Especially not without Thornton.
  • Las Vegas is probably not thrilled about playing Los Angeles in the first round. Los Angeles however is not the possession beast they once were and Vegas’ numbers are spectacular. They are going to make a deep run.

With all that being said, here are my predictions:

Western Conference:

  • Nashville vs Colorado – Nashville
  • Winnipeg vs Minnesota – Winnipeg
  • Las Vegas vs Los Angeles – Las Vegas
  • Anaheim vs San Jose – San Jose

Eastern Conference:

  • Tampa Bay vs New Jersey – Tampa Bay
  • Boston vs Toronto – Boston
  • Washington vs Columbus – Washington
  • Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia – Pittsburgh

Stanley Cup Final – Pittsburgh over Las Vegas