Kill the penalties – or be killed – if you want to win the Stanley Cup

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Can a Stanley Cup winner be distilled into a reproducible recipe?

It’s a question I ask every year after the NHL’s trade deadline passes as we re-evaluate the league’s power structure based on players who have changed teams. Is there a list of ingredients a contending team can look for and sprinkle in a pot each season to ensure a long playoff run?

Last season, I presented what I believed to be a usable championship recipe by studying the 10 previous Stanley Cup winners. The recipe consisted of seven traits that were most common among champions. It wasn’t as simple as being good at everything. For example, there was no strong correlation at all between having a good power play and winning the Cup.

Using the same metrics, which NHL roster has the right mix of championship gear this season?

I mentioned power play as a weak correlation factor, but the reverse has already been true for shorthandedness. Today we continue the recipe series by looking at how Stanley Cup winners fared shorthanded during the regular season.

Stanley Cup Ingredient #5: Penalty Effectiveness

Here’s a look at the last 10 champions and their shots on goal performance compared to the regular season sample size.

Season Champion Penalty kill %
2012-13 Chicago 87.2% (3rd)
2013-14 Los Angeles 83.1% (11e)
2014-15 Chicago 83.4% (10e)
2015-16 Pittsburgh 84.4% (5e)
2016-17 Pittsburgh 79.8% (20e)
2017-18 Washington 80.3% (15e)
2018-19 Saint Louis 81.5% (9e)
2019-20 Tampa Bay 81.4% (14e)
2020-21 Tampa Bay 84.2% (4e)
2021-22 Colorado 79.7% (15e)

Thus, above-average penalties are common among recent champions. Five of the last 10 finished in the top 10, while nine of the last 10 sat in the top half of the league. Still, only three of them made it into the top five, suggesting you don’t necessarily need a elite PK This just can’t be your Achilles heel. We’ve also seen teams with pedestrian penalties make late-season additions that have improved them a lot as well. The 2019-20 Lightning landed Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline and ended up killing penalties at an 86.1% rate in the playoffs.

But, as with every episode of the exercise, we’re focusing more on roster construction and performance during the regular season, which is the part that a GM can control. And there is a decent correlation between a good penalty throughout the season and an eventual Cup run – but not a powerfully strong correlation.

Stanley Cup Correlation: Fair

Knowing that a good penalty helps you and a bad penalty is a major no-no for Cup contenders, let’s take a look at the 2022-23 squad standings.

2022-23 NHL leaders, shorthanded efficiency

1. Boston Bruins, 85.3%
2. Carolina Hurricanes, 84.0%
3. Dallas All-Stars, 83.0%
4. Winnipeg Jets, 82.9%
5. Ottawa Senators, 82.8%
6. Washington Capitals, 82.7%
7. San José sharks, 82.7%
8. New Jersey Devils, 82.2%
9. New York Islanders, 81.9%
10. Calgary Flames, 81.7%

No wonder the Bruins, who are good at just about everything and have the best defensive forward of all time, survey the top 10, which includes six teams currently holding playoff berths.

The Edmonton Oilers and Seattle Kraken obviously have weaknesses to exploit as they currently hold playoff positions as they sit 25e and 28e, respectively, outnumbered. Even since the acquisition of defenseman Mattias Ekholm, the Oilers are still in the bottom third of the NHL since March 1 in shots and scoring chances allowed by 60 shorthanded. The Kraken have terrible PK but are also one of the least penalized teams in the NHL, mitigating the damage they take.

If there is a playoff contender in deep trouble? The Florida Panthers have to be careful. They have the 27th penalty kill in the league and lead the NHL in penalties imposed every 60 minutes. It’s pretty clear how you’re going to beat them if you draw them as your first-round opponent.

Previous Stanley Cup Ingredient entries: Team weight, top 10 scorer(s). Top 10 GoalkeepersShare shot attempt

Next step: Stanley Cup rings


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