Tag Archives: shootouts lucky

Why are the hockey playoffs so unpredictable?

The NHL playoffs have many more upsets than the NBA. Adrian the Canadian tells me that this is ruining their product, since the most exciting teams often get unlucky and bow out early. I can’t help but agree — I stopped watching this year after my favorite team (the Red Wings), my local team (the Bruins), and probably the best team (the Penguins) got bounced. The NHL wasn’t always so unpredictable — the Canadiens, Islanders, and Oilers won 13 of 15 cups between 1975-76 and 1989-90. Adrian’s theory is that the the rise of the butterfly goalie has increased save percentages, which makes outcomes more random.

It’s pretty easy to show that increased save percentages do indeed muddy up the result. I generated 1,000 simulated games for three sets of parameters. First, the 1980s (before the butterfly):

  • Both teams: 89% save percentage
  • Team A: 32 shots per game on average
  • Team B: 28 shots per game on average

Then, for the late 90s/early 2000s (butterfly goalies, slightly fewer shots on average perhaps due to popularity of the neutral zone trap): Continue reading

Hockey Night in America! Part 1: NHL shootouts and playoffs

With the NFL all wrapped up, it’s time for Hockey Night in America! A few weeks ago, I watched the extremely exciting Edmonton Oilers play my Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings nearly got the win in regulation, but the Oilers scored with 39 seconds remaining (highlights here). Four on four overtime favored the fast skating Oilers, and Detroit needed two open net saves from defensemen to stay alive. The Wings are an excellent shootout team, but they lost this one.

The Wings are 7-2 in shootouts this year, which has earned them some extra points in the standings (shootouts fueled their record home winning streak as well). Back in December, I questioned whether these extra points are deserved. Shootouts reward individual skill that may not be related to game performance. In the interest of crowning the best team champion, maybe we’d be better off giving the Oilers and Red Wings one point each and going home at the end of overtime (the dreaded tie . . . ). But do teams that get into the playoffs with many shootout victories actually perform worse once they get there?

I started by calculating shootout-free points totals Continue reading