I divided things into quadrants, and looked at the top and bottom for each statistic. With 48 playoff teams in the last three years, I was looking for about 12 teams in each sample.
Goals For –
Lowest Quadrant (< league average) – 14 teams, 5 series wins
Highest Quadrant (>10% above league average) – 12 teams, 18 series wins
Goals Against –
Lowest Quadrant (< league average) – 11 teams, 7 series wins
Highest Quadrant (>15% above league average) – 12 teams, 10 series wins
Power Play % –
Lowest Quadrant (< league average) – 14 teams, 7 series wins
Highest Quadrant (>10% above league average) – 11 teams, 19 series wins
Penalty Kill % –
Lowest Quadrant (<1% below league average) – 12 teams, 7 series wins
Highest Quadrant (>3% above league average) – 10 teams, 11 series wins
So that seems to contradict the saying “defense wins championships”. The two categories that show the most difference betwixt the highest and lowest quadrants are Goals Scored and Power Play %. So, you ask, what do those numbers look like on the same plot?
So, teams that are less than 10% above average on both PP% and GF are not very likely to advance deep into the playoffs. 32 teams fit that description, and they have 17 series wins among them. I don’t particularly like those odds (the outlier there is Edmonton’s trip to the Finals in ’06). On the other hand, the teams more than 10% above average on both PP% and GF have 9 series wins among 7 teams. Leaving 19 series victories among the other 9 teams, so I guess you want your team to be really good at one of the two, but not both? (Actually, that’s overanalyzing a really small sample size, so ignore that.)
So let’s look at the Western Conference of the current season and see who fits the mold of a possible playoff success story.
Holy crap, Detroit is way out there (+29% GF, +42%(!) PP%). Also Chicago and San Jose are >10% in both categories. The rest of the conference is pretty mediocre, but a few teams have a good power play (St. Louis, Anaheim, and Minnesota are +13%, +12%, and +11% respectively in PP%). Unfortunately, all three seem to lack the scoring punch in general (particularly the Wild) to make it to the playoffs, which is the first step toward a successful playoff run.
Now, I realize that predicting Detroit, San Jose, and Chicago as frontrunners in the conference doesn’t take this much analysis, but when I started making these plots I didn’t know exactly where it was going, and it was interesting to see how important offense is to a deep playoff run.
Finally, for those who are wondering, the East looks like this:
PP% >10% above average – Washington (+25%), Boston (+22%), Philadelphia (+21%)
GF >10% above average – Boston (+17%), Washington (+15%), Philadelphia (+12%)