Friday, December 18, 2009

Today’s No-Brainer: Playoff teams have strong power-plays

A statistical breakdown of how the man-advantage has played into a team’s post-season hopes

Any coach in the NHL will tell you that there is no easier way to lose a game than squandering power-play opportunities. “Our power-play just wasn’t clicking tonight, we couldn’t bury our chances” is one of the most frequent sound bites spouted by any coach after a loss.

Power-play success can alter the outcome of any game. But what does producing on the power-play mean in terms of producing a successful season?

To answer that question, we’ll look at some notable figures taken from power-play statistics since the lock-out (not including the current season):

Since the 2005-2006 NHL Season, the power-play average for the entire league is 18 per cent. Teams that have had a power-play percentage higher than the league average have accounted for 34 out of 64 playoff berths over the course of four seasons.

Okay, maybe that statistic won’t convince you that power-play success always translates into a sure-fire playoff berth. After all, teams above the league’s power-play average only accounted for 53.1 per cent of all playoff berths since the lockout. But keep in mind, most teams tend to hover right around the average for power-play conversion and are often fighting it out right down the stretch to make the playoffs.

Maybe some examples from opposite ends of the spectrum will help us better understand just how important a successful power-play is to a team’s win column.
The Columbus Blue Jackets at a success rate of just 14.2 per cent are the league’s worst power-play team since the lock-out. The Chicago Blackhawks hold claim to the second worst power-play average since the lockout at 14.8 per cent. Both teams fall well below the league average and have combined for just two post-season berths in four seasons.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Red Wings have the best average at 21.4 per cent, followed closely by Montreal at 21.3 per cent. What does this translate to? Over the past four seasons, Detroit has made the playoffs all four times and Montreal missed the playoffs just once in 2006-2007.

As well, four teams have averaged over 20 per cent on their power-play since the lock-out: Montreal, Detroit, San Jose, and Anaheim. Out of these teams, Montreal is the only team that failed to make the playoffs in all four seasons.
Four teams have not made the playoffs since the lockout: Florida, Toronto, Los Angeles and Phoenix. The Toronto Maple Leafs at 18.9 per cent are the only team in this group that has had a power-play percentage higher than the league average. Another indicator that success on the power-play helps put teams into the post-season.

Success on the power-play helps push teams into the playoffs, probably a no-brainer for any hockey fan. Obviously there are countless other factors at play that determine the success of any team, but in an age where stats are thrown at you from every angle, it’s important to breakdown just how important a strong power-play can be.

What does the future hold for the power-play? Will it continue to separate the contenders from the pretenders? All signs point to yes. The league’s power-play average has risen from 17.6 per cent in 2005-2006 to 18.9 per cent last season and currently sits at 20.2 per cent this season. With those types of numbers you can be sure that no GM will underestimate the importance of the PP when putting together a team.