Vulgar Statistics: Stanley Cup Champions Of The Past Decade
I think we can all agree that there are a lot of different ways to make a Stanley Cup Champion, offense, defense, goaltending, work ethic, you name it. One thing is constant though: you need a team that is talented. There are three things that can describe that talent: young players playing above their contract, veterans having good (or great) years, and role players stepping up in the right moment (we’ll call these one-year wonders).
This article measures those three factors by looking the statistics of every significant member of every Stanley Cup Champion roster from 2001 until 2011 and comparing their numbers that year to those throughout the rest of their career. I made notes where players hit career highs in championship seasons, and where they hit career highs by greater than one standard deviation (essentially a statistically anomalous, “lucky” season). The best teams are those with the fewest instances of the above, relying on overall talent rather than guys playing beyond themselves to win a championship.
- Since the math is somewhat more complicated than I usually get, I kept the statistics simple. The categories I tracked were Games Played, Goals, Assists, Points, +/-, and Points Per Game in the Playoffs for forwards, and Goals Against Average and Save Percentage for Goalies (combined into one “Goaltending” stat).
- I did not start counting a player’s career numbers until they played more than 40 games in a season (unless it was their Cup year). Having a season or two at the beginning of a player’s career of single digit games seemed to anomalous to include. After they established themselves as a regular, I counted every season.
- Two teams were so statistically odd, I went back to see how many players went outside two standard deviations in each statistical category.
- Since the study tracks individual performances versus careers, the teams aren’t really comparable to each other in terms of overall talent. However since it’s fun to do things in a bragging rights sort of way, I give you a list of the luckiest cup champions of the past decade.
10). The 2002 Detroit Red Wings
Career Highs – 7 (GP – 4, G – 1, +/- – 2)
Statistical Anomalies – 11 (GP – 3, A – 1, Pts – 1, +/- – 6)
Total – 18
The Detroit Red Wings had the fewest statistical oddities of any of the ten teams, and that gives them the title of least lucky, most talented cup champion. With Steve Yzerman, Tomas Holmstrom, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Federov, Pavel Datsyuk, Chris Chelios, Nick Lidstrom, and Dominik Hasek on the team it’s not hard to get behind that logic. The Wings were so good that a lot of their star players actually had below average years, and they still won the Stanley Cup. Of their big names, only Brett Hull had a single career high, and that was in games played.
9). The 2003 New Jersey Devils
Career Highs – 8 (GP – 1, A – 1, PTS – 1, ‘+/- – 4, Playoff PPG – 1)
Statistical Anomalies – 14 (GP – 1, A – 2, Pts – 2, ‘+/- – 7, Playoff PPG – 2)
Total – 22
Like the 2002 Red Wings, the 2003 Devils were stacked from top to bottom. Joe Nieuwendyk, Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez, and Brian Rafalski made up the roster along with future hall of famer Martin Brodeur. And also like the Wings, none of the Devils’ big names had outstanding years, and a few of them were even getting to the point of their careers where they were a shadow of their former selves.
8). The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins
Career Highs – 24 (GP – 5, G – 5, A – 3, Pts – 4, +/- – 4, Playoff PPG – 3)
Statistical Anomalies – 12 (GP – 1, A – 3, Pts – 2, +/- – 4, Playoff PPG – 3)
Total – 36
You’ll find that a lot of these teams had several players that had career years in +/- which makes a lot of sense. Winning a cup takes a great deal of gelling as a team and +/- is a good indicator of that. The 2009 Penguins were my pre-research pick for least lucky, most talented team, but they fell well short of the Devils and Wings. They had a lot of young players who were just starting to find their A-game and it paid off in spades. Most telling was Evgeni Malkin’s fantastic year. 82 games played, 35 goals, 78 assists, 113 points, a +17, and 1.5 PPG in the playoffs, all but the goal total rating as career highs.
7). The 2008 Detroit Red Wings
Career Highs – 20 (GP – 3, G – 3, A – 2, Pts – 2, +/- – 5, Playoff PPG – 5, Goaltending – 3)
Statistical Anomalies – 21 (GP – 2, G – 3, A – 3, Pts – 2, +/- – 7, Playoff PPG – 1, Goaltending – 3)
Total – 41
The Red Wings make another appearance near the good part of this list with a new crop of talented players and a career year for Chris Osgood. Like Malkin a year later, Datsyuk and Zetterberg would put together their best seasons as pros and lead the Wings to glory. Add in Osgood’s great numbers and one of Brett Lebda’s rare years of not sucking and you’ve got a talented Stanley Cup Champion.
6). The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks
Career Highs – 36 (GP – 5, G – 4, A – 5, Pts – 5, +/- – 5, Playoff PPG – 9, Goaltending – 3)
Statistical Anomalies – 9 (G – 2, A – 3, Pts – 2, +/- – 2)
Total – 45
The Blackhawks are a perfect “Winning a Cup for Dummies” team. Acquire loads of young talent that should peak at the same time (Kane, Sharp, Toews, Niemi, Byfuglien, Bolland, Seabrook, Keith, Campbell), Add a few savvy veterans who have been there before (Ladd, Hossa), and wait. Patrick Kane had the best numbers of his young career in every statistical category, Toews, Sharp, and Keith added a few other career highs, and the four of them came up monsters in the playoffs. It’s no wonder Philadelphia at times looked way overmatched.
5). The 2007 Anaheim Ducks
Career Highs – 28 (GP – 8, G – 5, A – 5, Pts – 5, +/- – 3, Playoff PPG – 2)
Statistical Anomalies – 19 (GP – 1, G – 2, A – 5, Pts – 6, +/- – 3, Playoff PPG – 2)
Total – 47
I’ll admit that the Ducks may be a bit lower down than they should since the first two years after the lockout led to elevated stats for some players, but moreso I think their success was based on their young guys coming through and J.S. Giguere showing his big game skills. The Ducks were a great combination of young guys in Perry, Getzlaf, and Penner and veterans in Niedermayer, Pronger, and Selanne. Travis Moen, Getzlaf, and Niedermayer had dynamite years and the vets did the rest. Although Ottawa’s awfulness didn’t hurt.
4). The 2011 Boston Bruins
Career Highs – 35 (GP – 7, G – 4, A – 3, Pts – 3, ‘+/- – 8, Playoff PPG – 7, Goaltending – 3)
Statistical Anomalies – 15 (G – 4, A – 1, Pts – 3, +/- – 6 Goaltending – 1)
Total – 50
I wasn’t sure where exactly Boston was going to fall. On one hand, I knew they were a good team, but I also thought they were fortunate in a lot of respects. I feel that the defining factor in their Stanley Cup run was that they simply wanted it more than anyone else. It didn’t hurt that their team stayed relatively healthy and caught a few breaks in terms of opponents, but the large number of players that hit career highs in playoff points per game was very telling to me. They were good, no doubt, but they weren’t as good as they played. And when your goaltender has a record breaking season…hello Stanley Cup.
3). The 2001 Colorado Avalanche
Career Highs – 25 (GP – 4, G – 4, A – 2, Pts – 3, +/- – 5, Playoff PPG – 5, Goaltending – 2)
Statistical Anomalies – 25 (GP – 2, G – 6, A – 3, Pts – 3, +/- – 6, Playoff PPG – 3, Goaltending – 2)
Total – 50
I was kind of surprised to see the Avalanche this low. You almost think of them in the same breath as the 2002 Red Wings with guys like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, and Patrick Roy. Aside from Joe Sakic’s great season and Patrick Roy’s positively ridiculous playoffs, there wasn’t a player that blew me away. It was “career highs by committee” as one guy would chip in their best goal total, another their best assist total, and so on. It’s probably unfair to have them so far down here because the next two weren’t even close.
2). The 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning
Career Highs – 32 (GP – 8, G – 2, A – 5, Pts – 2, +/- – 10, Playoff PPG – 3, Goaltending – 2)
Statistical Anomalies – 31 (GP – 3, G – 4, A – 6, Pts – 5, +/- – 9, Playoff PPG – 2, Goaltending – 2)
Extreme Statistical Anomalies – 2 (Cory Stillman’s +/- (+18), Fredrik Modin’s +/- (+31)).
Total – 65
So many players hit obscene career highs in +/- for the 2004 Lightning, it’s ridiculous. Add to that Modin’s career highs in every category except goals, the first of Dmitry Afanasenkov’s three 68+ game NHL seasons, Pavel Kubina’s high in goals, Cory Stillman’s career highs in every category except goals and Playoff PPG, an unbeatable Nikolai Khabibulin, an underwhelming opponent, and productive years from the big guns Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis and you’ve got one lucky cup champion. But even they fall short to…
1). The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes
Career Highs – 34 (GP – 4, G – 7, A – 5, Pts – 6, +/- – 4, Playoff PPG – 6, Goaltending – 2)
Statistical Anomalies – 32 (GP – 1, G – 9, A – 6, Pts – 9, +/- – 4, Playoff PPG – 3)
Extreme Statistical Anomalies – 4 (Aaron Ward’s goals (6), Aaron Ward’s Assists (19), Aaron Ward’s Points (25), Erik Cole’s +/- (+19))
Total – 70
And the worst part of it is, there were at least a half dozen other categories where players were within 1 goal/assist/whatever of going over two standard deviations from their career average. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes are a team full of guys that were good for 1-3 years and then never again. And I can’t fully blame it on the post-lockout goal frenzy because the Anaheim ducks didn’t even approach their preposterousness. We all criticize Thomas Vanek for dropping off from his 43g, 41a 2006-2007 campaign, but Eric Staal can’t even get that close to his 45-55-100 and Staal has stayed much healthier. Kevyn Adams had one year with 82 games played and 15+ goals, 2006. Craig Adams has one season of double digit goals and 20+ points, 2006. Erik Cole has one 30 goal season, 2006. Cory Stillman, who gets on this list twice, has spent most of his seasons struggling to get half the 80 and 76 points he tallied in 03-04 and 05-06. Aaron Ward hit career highs in goals, assists, and points, and Frank Kaberle put up nine more assists (38) than he has points in any other year. The absolute worst though has to be Justin Williams. 31-45-76, and 33-34-67 in the two seasons following the lockout. In the four seasons after, 9-21-30, 4-10-14, 10-19-29, and 22-35-57. The Carolina Hurricanes 2006 roster is chock full of one hit wonders who just flat out sucked every year but that one. When you add to it that their Finals opponent was an eighth place Oilers team playing their backup goalie, the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes are without question the worst Cup Winner of the last decade. But we didn’t need statistics to tell us that.
After a week’s worth of putting together ten spreadsheets with 200+ players on them, I am exhausted. I hope you enjoyed this entry because I had a ton of fun researching it, in spite of the massive amount of work. I will try to upload everything to Google Documents and post links in the comments for anyone that wants to browse through them. Enjoy.