Friday, April 17, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals Competitiveness

I was recently reading a book on the WHA and specifically the 1978 Avco Cup finals. The Winnipeg Jets swept the New England Whalers by scores of 4-1, 5-2, 10-2 and 5-3. This works out to an average margin of victory of four goals each game, which seems like a very non-competitive series. The fact that the series was a sweep must make this one of the least competitive final series in hockey history. The goal differential would be a good way to decide this, as well the length of the series itself would be the other factor in deciding how competitive it was. I decided on a formula of Avg Goal Differential multiplied by the Length of Series Factor. If a series went the full distance of seven (or five games prior to 1939) I assigned a one to series length, if it went one game short of full, I assigned a two continuing on to a sweep in a seven game series being assigned a four in series length. The lower the number here, the longer the series went, and hence the more competitive it was.
The chart below lists the most and least competitive finals series using my formula.


That 1978 WHA final does indeed hold up as the biggest "blowout" final ever. In fact the WHA holds four of the top five spots in the non-competitive chart. The closest WHA final was in 1977 which actually had the highest margin of victory average in hockey history. Winnipeg and Quebec combined for an average goal difference of 4.71 per game.
The Jets won games by 6-1 and 12-3 and the Nords won by 6-1, 8-3 and 8-2. The only reason this wasn't the least competitive series ever was the fact it went seven, with each team taking turns dominating the other.

The least competitive Stanley Cup final was 1970 Boston vs St.Louis with an average margin of victory of 3.25 goals. This may put Bobby Orr's memorable winner into a slightly different light. The Oilers first Cup win in 1984 rates high on the chart and served as retribution for the Isles beating up the Oilers the year prior.

On the competitive side, the best score a series could achieve is a 1.00 which represents a series that goes the distance and every game is decided by one goal. Three pre-modern era series came close while the most competitive modern era series was 1964 Toronto over Detroit with five of the games being decided by one goal, and only the last game decided by more than two.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the two recent finals featuring Tampa & Calgary and Carolina & Edmonton were among the most competitive ever, both went seven games and each had four of the games decided by one goal.

Only three final series have had each game decided by only one goal, 1927 Ottawa & Boston, 1951 Toronto & Montreal and 1968 Montreal & St.Louis. Each of these series went far from the maximum to negate the closeness of the individual games.

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