The Stanley Cup Secret Formula

Lord Stanley’s Cup. The hardest trophy to win in sports – and one that has eluded the city of St. Louis. The Blues have made the Stanley Cup final three times since they became an NHL team in the 1967 expansion. Those appearances came in their first three years as a franchise, when an expansion team was guaranteed to make the final due to the playoff format. To make matters worse, they were swept on all three occasions: twice by the Canadiens and once by the Bruins, where Bobby Orr scored his famous flying goal to win the series.

So, what is it going to take?

What is it going to take to get a parade down Market Street in June?

What is it going to take for St. Louis to finally hoist the Stanley Cup?

Analyzing the past thirteen years of NHL champions, let’s unearth the secret formula the Blues will have to follow to win their first title.

Stanley Cup Table
Season Lg Team AvAge GP W L T OL PTS PTS% GF GA SRS SOS TG/G PP PPO PP% PPA PPOA PK% SH SHA SOG S% SA SV% PDO
2017-18 NHL Washington Capitals 28.4 82 49 26 7 105 .640 259 239 0.21 -0.04 6.07 55 244 22.54 53 269 80.30 4 8 2379 10.8 2601 .913 101.5
2016-17 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins 28.7 82 50 21 11 111 .677 282 234 0.59 0.01 6.29 60 260 23.08 52 257 79.77 5 7 2745 10.1 2663 .917 101.4
2015-16 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins 29.0 82 48 26 8 104 .634 245 203 0.50 -0.01 5.46 48 261 18.39 40 257 84.44 11 5 2722 8.9 2428 .921 100.7
2014-15 NHL Chicago Blackhawks 29.3 82 48 28 6 102 .622 229 189 0.51 0.02 5.10 46 260 17.69 35 211 83.41 3 7 2777 7.9 2469 .928 100.5
2013-14 NHL Los Angeles Kings 27.4 82 46 28 8 100 .610 206 174 0.40 0.01 4.63 43 284 15.14 50 296 83.11 5 6 2595 7.6 2147 .923 100.0
2012-13 NHL Chicago Blackhawks 26.8 48 36 7 5 77 .802 155 102 1.04 -0.07 5.35 25 150 16.67 18 141 87.23 5 5 1494 10.0 1257 .924 101.9
2011-12 NHL Los Angeles Kings 26.7 82 40 27 15 95 .579 194 179 0.19 0.01 4.55 49 289 16.96 38 293 87.03 9 2 2509 7.5 2246 .925 100.0
2010-11 NHL Boston Bruins 28.3 82 46 25 11 103 .628 246 195 0.56 -0.07 5.38 43 266 16.17 46 265 82.64 11 5 2696 9.1 2677 .932 101.9
2009-10 NHL Chicago Blackhawks 26.6 82 52 22 8 112 .683 271 209 0.77 0.02 5.85 52 294 17.69 40 266 84.96 13 4 2798 9.4 2054 .903 99.6
2008-09 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins 26.6 82 45 28 9 99 .604 264 239 0.28 -0.02 6.13 62 360 17.22 60 347 82.71 7 13 2381 10.8 2476 .909 101.3
2007-08 NHL Detroit Red Wings 32.1 82 54 21 7 115 .701 257 184 0.93 0.04 5.38 81 391 20.72 57 357 84.03 5 7 2820 8.9 1926 .909 99.9
2006-07 NHL Anaheim Ducks 28.5 82 48 20 14 110 .671 258 208 0.67 0.06 5.68 89 398 22.36 61 410 85.12 4 4 2582 9.8 2245 .913
2005-06 NHL Carolina Hurricanes 29.2 82 52 22 8 112 .683 294 260 0.29 -0.13 6.76 95 531 17.89 81 445 81.80 17 13 2553 11.2 2492 .898
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2018.

 

The first area we’ll consider is a team’s statistical data (all data can be accessed at hockey-reference.com), followed by intangibles. For this analysis, we will only look at regular season numbers. All postseason data tends to heavily favor the Stanley Cup champion, which tells us nothing (the two teams in the cup final play the most games so naturally they will be leaders in practically every statistical category).

Points

Looking at regular season data since the lockout in 2004-05, finishing top 8 in the NHL in points is an important factor in winning the Stanley Cup. Unless your name is the Los Angeles Kings (10th and 13th in their cup years), every single champion has finished as a top 8 team or better during the regular season. Why does this matter? The playoff schedule. A top 8 team will almost certainly have home ice advantage for at least the first round, allowing them to play weaker playoff teams and travel less. Playing weaker competition allows teams to win their series in fewer games (more rest), and traveling less prevents fatigue. Thus, finishing in the top 8 in the regular season matters because it leads to a potentially less grueling playoff schedule.

💯 One Hunna

One number carries considerable weight among Stanley Cup champions and contenders: 100. It is the magic number that all of the best teams strive towards in two areas. One is special teams, and the other is scoring and saving the puck. Starting with special teams, your penalty kill and power play percentages should total to greater than or equal to 100. Why? Let’s use an example. Suppose your team kills penalties 80% of the time. That means your team gets scored on 20% of the time. In order to offset the goals you allow on the penalty kill, you should convert on the power play 20% of the time. 80 + 20 = 100. A total of 100 means your special teams are a wash. They neither hurt, nor help you. Anything greater than 100 means your special teams helps, and less than 100 means it hurts. Almost every single Stanley Cup winner has a special teams total of greater than or equal to 100. Their special teams never hurt them.

100 also matters for shooting and stopping the puck. For the exact same reason as special teams, a team’s shooting and save percentages at even strength (or PDO) should sum to greater than or equal to 100. If your goalie stops the puck on 91% of the shots they face at even strength (or gets scored on 9% of the time), your team should be scoring goals on at least 9% of your shots at even strength to offset it. Any total better than 100 means your team is net positive at even strength and anything less is net negative. Almost all Stanley Cup winners have a PDO of 100 or greater. Or in other words, they win the even strength battle.

An interesting note on these two statistics is a team’s rank in the league doesn’t matter. You could be the 28th best team in the category like the Kings were in PDO in 2011-12, but as long as you hit the 100 threshold, that’s all that counts. Another interesting note is these two stats work together. If your PDO (even strength performance) is less than 100, then your special teams percentages need to be greater than 100 to help offset the negative. The vice versa is also true. We see this in action with two Stanley Cup champs: the Blackhawks in 2009-10 and the Red Wings in 2007-08. Both teams had PDOs below the 100 threshold, but they made up for it on special teams where they had totals of 102.65 and 104.75 respectively. While they lacked at even strength, they excelled on special teams.

Goals For/Goals Against

Another important statistic that helps to determine your Stanley Cup potential is your goals for and against. 10 of the past 13 champions finished in the top 10 in goals for during the regular season, and ALL winners finished outside the top 10 in goals against. Every Stanley Cup champ scores more than they get scored on. Well… duh. It makes intuitive sense that if your score more than you get scored on that’s good, and this stat proves to be vital to a team’s cup chances.

SOS

An interesting trend among Stanley Cup champions appears in their Strength of Schedule, or SOS. One might believe that a team who excels in the playoffs did so because they faced harder competition during the season, which better prepared them for the postseason. Not so. In fact, only one Stanley Cup winner in the past 13 years has had an SOS inside the top 10 during the regular season. A weaker schedule actually helps a team win the cup. An explanation for this could be a weaker schedule allows a team to accumulate more points and therefore earn a higher playoff seed (see above why that is important).

SRS

One final statistical trend we’ll examine involves a team’s SRS, or Simple Rating System. This metric takes into account a team’s average goal differential and SOS. The metric is measured in goals above or below average, with zero being the league average. 8 of the past 13 Stanley Cup champs have had an SRS in the top 4 in the league, and 10 of the past 13 have been in the top 8. No champion since the lockout has ever been ranked below 13 (this year’s champ, the Capitals, won with a rank of 13).

Intangibles

Numbers aren’t everything, though. Every Stanley Cup champion has had intangibles that can’t be measured. But, there is one intangible that appears to be consistent among all league winners: resilience. Overcoming adversity seems to be the commonality among the teams who get to parade around with the cup, especially in the playoffs. The phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies well here. If a team can get through a difficult situation, they will be better off because of it. The Capitals overcame a 2-0 hole in the first round, beat their demon the Penguins, and battled the naysayers to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Kings became only the fourth team in NHL history to win a playoff series after being down 3-0 in that series, and then went on to win their second cup in 3 years in 2014. The Penguins were without their number one goalie Matt Murray in 2017 for the first 2.5 round of the playoffs, and they still won the cup on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury’s stellar first two playoff rounds. These are just a few examples among many. The message is simple: if you want to win, you have to overcome adversity.

Circling back to the Blues, have they ever had a team that fit the Stanley Cup champion mold in the past 13 years? Many consider their rosters from 2011-2016 to be the best the team has had since the lockout. Let’s examine those five teams…

  • 2011-12 St. Louis Blues:
    • Points: 109 – Rank: 3
    • Goals For: 210 – Rank: 22
    • Goals Against: 165 – Rank: 30
    • SRS: 0.54 – Rank: 5
    • SOS: -0.01 – Rank: 20
    • PP% + PK% = 102.55
    • PDO: 100.7

This team was great at everything except putting the biscuit in the basket. They were especially good at keeping the biscuit out of the basket though, allowing the fewest goals in the league. This defense helped propel them past the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, but the lack of scoring proved to be their kryptonite. They were swept by red-hot Jonathan Quick and the Kings in the second round.

  • 2012-13 St. Louis Blues:
    • Points: 60 – Rank: 6
    • Goals For: 129 – Rank: 14
    • Goals Against: 115 – Rank: 25
    • SRS: 0.31 – Rank: 8
    • SOS: 0.02 – Rank: 9
    • PP% + PK% = 104.13
    • PDO: 99.4

This was a solid Blues team. The season didn’t start until January due to a half-season lockout, but the team put on a good regular season performance, finishing with 60 points. Where this team lacked was in goals for, where they amassed 129 goals, good for only 14th in the league. They also faced a tougher schedule compared to the rest of the NHL, finishing with the 9th most difficult slate. Their PDO was lacking but special teams were phenomenal and more than made up for it. This was a good team, but they lacked scoring and resilience, which ultimately proved to be their downfall as they were bounced by the Kings in the first round of the playoffs after being up 2-0 in the series.

  • 2013-14 St. Louis Blues:
    • Points: 111 – Rank: 5
    • Goals For: 248 – Rank: 7
    • Goals Against: 191 – Rank: 28
    • SRS: 0.71 – Rank: 2
    • SOS: 0.01 – Rank: 12
    • PP% + PK% = 105.46
    • PDO: 100.6

The 2013-14 Blues checked every single statistical box. They were in the top 8 in points, were a top 10 scoring team, were one of the best defensive teams, were highly rated, avoided a top 10 hardest schedule, were amazing on special teams, and were above average at even strength. This team could have won the cup. What could have been… They failed to overcome adversity in the postseason as they were bounced by the Blackhawks in the first round after being up 2-0 (again).

  • 2014-15 St. Louis Blues:
    • Points: 111 – Rank: 5
    • Goals For: 248 – Rank: 7
    • Goals Against: 191 – Rank: 28
    • SRS: 0.71 – Rank: 2
    • SOS: 0.01 – Rank: 12
    • PP% + PK% = 105.46
    • PDO: 100.6

The 2014-15 Blues were just as good as they were the previous season. They hit every target… except the intangibles one (to quote Herb Brooks, “again”). They were bounced from the playoffs by the definitely inferior Minnesota Wild in six games. Sigh…

  • 2015-16 St. Louis Blues:
    • Points: 107 – Rank: 3
    • Goals For: 224 – Rank: 15
    • Goals Against: 201 – Rank: 27
    • SRS: 0.28 – Rank: 9
    • SOS: 0.00 – Rank: 16
    • PP% + PK% = 106.66
    • PDO: 100.1

This appeared to be the last shot for the Blues current roster to win the Stanley Cup. They lacked in goal scoring once more, but this seemed to be a team on a mission. Led by captain David Backes, they finally beat the Blackhawks in the first round in seven games. Then they beat the Stars in seven. But, they became shark bait in the conference finals. Their lack of goal scoring and grueling playoff schedule caught up to them, and they were knocked out by the Sharks in six games. They were so close, but they just couldn’t overcome their fatigue to make it to the finals.

The Blues have had 5 teams since the lockout that met most or all of the statistical data that correlates with Stanley Cup champions. Their lack of resilience, paired sometimes with a lack of goal scoring, appears to be what is blocking them from a Stanley Cup. With the recent off-season acquisitions, hopefully the Blues will be able to cross that final adversity hurdle in the near future.

So, what will it take for the Blues to hoist the Stanley Cup come June?

Here is the secret formula:

  • Finish in the top 8 in points.
  • Special teams percentages should total >= 100.
  • PDO should be >= 100.
  • If special teams or PDO is < 100, the other must be > 100.
  • Finish in the top 10 in goals for.
  • Finish outside the top 10 in goals against.
  • Get lucky and have an SOS outside the top 10
  • Finish with an SRS inside the top 13, preferably in the top 4 or 8.
  • Overcome adversity in the playoffs.

If the Blues can check off everything on this list, especially the last bullet point, then buy the champagne get ready for a parade down Market Street!

 

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