Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Greatest Playoff Performer in NHL History

When the question of which player is the greatest playoff performer in NHL history is raised, there really are only a few names that can be seriously mentioned. The obvious names would come up like Gretzky, Messier, Lemieux, Orr, Howe, Beliveau or Richard. Some would say it has be a goaltender, Roy, Brodeur, Plante or Dryden. The real question is by what method are we able to rank these players and their playoff performance throughout their careers.

One large factor I like to look at is if the player produces at a higher rate during the post-season than they do during the regular season, and if so by how much. The number of Stanley Cups a player has won should also go a long way in determining a great playoff performer. As well, leading the playoffs in a major statistical category will aid in determining playoff greatness. These three elements encompass team success as well as individual success in the post-season. I believe I've devised a simple system that is able to quantify these factors.

Firstly, comparing playoff production to regular season is a good way to eliminate discrepancies in scoring rates throughout the eras. A player's playoff scoring is easily compared to his regular season scoring. I decided to use a player’s goal scoring rates to figure out a Playoff Performance Number. I use goals instead of points because in my opinion, the importance of scoring goals is magnified in the playoffs and is a fine measuring stick of playoff greatness.
Using Jean Beliveau as an example:

Career Playoff Goals/Game 0.488
Career Regular Season Goals/Game 0.451

Divide the regular into the playoffs and we get 1.08. Beliveau was 8% better in the playoffs, which may not seem too high, but as we'll see, that's a fairly impressive number over an entire career. I translate the 1.08 to a scale out of 100. A rating of 100 even would represent a player scoring playoff goals at the exact same rate as in regular season. For example, Beliveau’s 1.08 gives him a 108. Wayne Gretzky scored 0.607 Goals/Game in his regular season career and 0.587 over his playoff career, therefore he scored goals at a rate of 0.98 compared to regular season, a slight drop-off. Gretzky starts with a 98 as a Playoff Performance Number before we look at the other factors. I believe looking at Goal Rates still works for defensemen because even if not league leading, if their goal scoring rate is far superior in the playoffs they’ll be rewarded accordingly.

The next step is accounting for how many Cups a player won and how many times he led the playoffs in goals and/or points (for defensemen I used assists here as well as goals and points.) I assign 4 points to each of these that occur after 1967 expansion, 3 points for each Cup and league lead of goals and points pre-expansion. I do this simply because winning a Cup or leading the league with 12, 21 or 30 teams in the NHL should be worth more than when there was only 6 teams. I won’t use Conn Smythe Trophy wins in the equation, as it wasn’t given out until 1965. Going back to Beliveau, he won 7 Cups pre-expansion, and 3 after for a total of 33 points, he also led in goals and points once each pre-1967 for 6 more points. His overall PPN (Playoff Performance Number) is (108+33+6) for 147.

For Gretzky we add his 44 points (4 Cups x 4 and 7 Goals/Points Leads x 4) to his 98 for a PPN of 142. I think it’s safe to say that so far, having Beliveau ranked just slightly ahead of Gretzky as a playoff performer seems about right. Let’s see how they rank against the other greats. I don’t have time to check every player to ever skate in the playoffs so I limited it to players that at first glance one may think of as among the great playoff performers of all-time.

I set a minimum of 100 career playoff games (50 for pre-expansion) as well as having won at the very least one Stanley Cup. In my opinion there’s no way you could be considered the greatest playoff performer ever if you haven't won a Cup. The rankings are as follows, listed by Playoff Performance Number.

Maurice Richard 159
Jean Beliveau 147
Jari Kurri 146
Mark Messier 145
Wayne Gretzky 142
Niklas Lidstrom 140
Ted Kennedy 136
Gordie Howe 136
Peter Forsberg 136
Yvan Cournoyer 136
Henrik Zetterberg 133
Joe Sakic 132
Bernie Geoffiron 132
Guy Lafleur 131
Claude Lemieux 130
Henri Richard 129
Denis Potvin 126
Dave Keon 124
Larry Robinson 123
Paul Coffey 123
Dickie Moore 122
Ted Lindsay 120
Mike Bossy 118
Phil Esposito 116
Mario Lemieux 114
Bryan Trottier 114
Bobby Hull 109
Bobby Orr 105
Steve Yzerman 94

Well, there you have it. Maurice Richard is far and away the Greatest Playoff Performer in NHL history on the strength of raising his goal production by 11%, 9 Cup wins and 7 times leading the playoffs in goals or points. Jari Kurri at third spot over Messier, and Gretzky may come as a bit of a surprise, but he did win 5 Cups and led the league in goals 4 times. Messier fulfills his reputation as a playoff stud despite having led the league only once in points in ’90, he also won 6 Cups and raised his goal rate by an amazing 17% in his playoff career. Claude Lemieux may also surprise here, but he raised his goal rate by 10% in the post-season, won 3 Cups and led in goals twice.

I have absolutely no problem with Nik Lidstrom rated as the top playoff performer among defenseman. Not only has he won 4 Cups, his goal rate goes up 24% in the post-season. Peter Forsberg and Henrik Zetterberg both rate highly due to each bettering their goal production by 20 and 21% respectively in the playoffs. Guys near the bottom of the list are hurt by their drop in scoring rates from regular season to playoffs and in Orr, Esposito and Lemieux’s cases also by the fact they won the Cup only twice. Yzerman and Trottier’s goal rate in playoffs was each only 78% of what it was during their regular season careers.

Now, for the goalies.

Using the same system, I compare each career playoff GAA to career regular season. Cups are counted the same, and for individual stats I count only leading the playoffs in GAA as leading in Wins tends to go hand-in hand with a goalie who wins the Cup. Therefore to avoid redundancy I wont use Wins as a measure. Following are the players that I would consider for best playoff goalie all-time, in order of Playoff Performance Number.

Turk Broda 155
Jacques Plante 147
Billy Smith 140
Grant Fuhr 140
Patrick Roy 138
Martin Brodeur 135
Ken Dryden 129
Bill Durnan 129
Bernie Parent 125
Johnny Bower 123
Terry Sawchuk 120

Turk Broda, Greatest Playoff Goalie Ever…that even caught me (the Leaf fan) off guard. The numbers tend to back it up though. He won 5 Cups and led in GAA on 4 occasions. His career playoff average of 1.98 is a whopping 28% better than his regular season GAA of 2.51. Grant Fuhr and Billy Smith’s is each 16% better and Plante’s 11% better than his regular average. As good as Roy was, his performance raised only 10% in the playoffs, less than Smith’s and far below Broda’s. Sawchuk's GAA in the playoffs is slightly higher than his regular season and Ken Dryden in fact had a GAA 7% worse in the playoffs, but did win the Cup 6 times and led in GAA 3 times.

Admittedly, I could use many more factors in this system, but I feel it gives a nice numerical rating of playoff greatness and is good starting point for the discussion of playoff greats. That being said, I’m very comfortable with calling Maurice Richard the greatest Playoff performer in NHL history.


Customer said...


I believe Chris Osgood should be on the list of top playoff performers. According to my notes he has a regular season GAA of 2.49 and a playoff GAA of 2.09 in 129 playoff games. Add in his 3 stanley cups and he is at least at 131. I am not sure how many times he led the playoffs in GAA but I would bet at least once.

Anonymous said...

He led the playoffs in GAA once in 2008 with a 1.55 on the way to a cup. so he is tied with Brodeur at 135.


Nitzy you are full of COKE with placing Phil Esposito that high on your list.

I am from Boston, adn ESPO STUNK in Playoffs.

Had 3 measly goals in 1971 playoff that we lost in 7. Had none in the 72 cup final

In 1974 Bobby Clarke checked him to death.

Terry O'Reilly scored 3 playoff winning goals in OT. Where is he
on your list?

How could you rate Roy over Ken Dryden? Dryden played 9 years and won 6 Cups.

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