Benmocha: Valued Characteristics Of A Stanley Cup Champion

by David Benmocha | Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014


In my previous article, I wrote about the history of the NHL’s Collecting Bargaining Agreement in which I used six statistics to categorizes a team’s likelihood of moving on to the next round of the playoffs. I based my judgment on averages of the Stanley Cup champion and finalist figuring that if their stats matched up together then that team must share similar characteristics and would likely follow in their path to the final. (Photo/Beauty Playin’ ‘Eh)

I found this theory to be somewhat inaccurate. The intent behind my original theory was that characteristics are based on habits and good habits will lead to success. In statistics, the first rule many people will tell you is that data analysis can be skewed when the numbers you are looking at are over a short period of time. Teams that reach the Stanley Cup final play anywhere between 20-25 games while the average team plays around 11 games (First and second round of playoffs). Eleven games is a very small sample size as it only accounts for 13.4% of a regular season. That sample size doubles to 24-30% of a regular season for teams that make it to the Stanley Cup final. Where my theory went wrong was to credit teams that were close to the average when teams did not play enough games to accurately judge their progress. Now, that there are only four teams left and all of the teams have surpassed the 11 game-check point, we are able to look at the numbers with greater certainty that they will not change drastically from game to game. At this point, it would take two or three games of changing patterns to reverse team’s strengths and weaknesses.


In this article, I will focus on determining teams’ strengths and weakness on the man advantage and at even strength. Teams will not be judged on how close their numbers are to the Stanley Cup winner or finalist. Instead, I will simplify the data by splitting teams into two groups: high percentage vs. low percentage. I used a standard number for the five categories to determine upper and lower bounds. The five categories are power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, even strength:  goals for percentage and goals against percentage and penalty minutes per game.

Even strength and man advantage have a total of nine possible game-play situations.

The two most common game-play situations for goals are even strength (5v5) and man advantage (5v4). In fact, this year 67.5% of all goals were scored even strength and 24.0% of goals were scored on the man advantage. Shorthanded goals account for 3.2% while empty net goals occurs just 5.1% of the time. 

Nine game-play situations

Man Advantage:  5v4, 4v3, 5v3

Even Strength: 5v5, 4v4, 3v3

Shorthanded: 4v5, 3v4

Empty Net: 6v5

Define:  Success

Power play– scoring a goal

Penalty kill– not letting your opponent score

Even Strength:

-Goals for percentage: Balance goals on power play and even strength goals

-Goals against percentage: Successful penalty kill means higher ES- GA % (Even strength goals against percentage). Having a high ES-GA percentage is a good thing.


Man Advantage

1. Power play percentage: 20.0% or success one out of every five chances.

2. Penalty kill percentage: 83.3% or success five out of every six penalty.

Even Strength

1. Goals for percentage: 70.0% or success seven out of ten

2. Goals against percentage: 70.0% or success seven out of ten


1. Ten penalty minutes per game= total of five penalties

Man Advantage

-Ideal: High Penalty kill percentage and High Power play percentage

-Bad trend: Low Penalty kill percentage and Low Power play percentage

-Sustainability: High Penalty kill percentage and Low Power play percentage

-Unsustainable: Low Penalty kill percentage and High Power play percentage

Even Strength

-Ideal: High goals against percentage and High goals for percentage.

-Bad Trend: Low goals against percentage and Low goals for percentage

-Sustainability: Low goals against percentage and High goals for percentage

-Unsustainable: High goals against percentage and Low goals for percentage


In my first theory, my objective was to compare team’s statistics that seemed to share characteristics of teams that make it to the finals. The problem was that there was not enough sample size to be able to get valid information. As we proceed to the third round, each team is played at least 11 games or more. The more games they play the less the numbers will move up or down.

In the first round, Los Angeles beat San Jose after trailing 0-3 in the series to win 4-3. In the second round, the Montreal Canadians took down a powerhouse Boston Bruins team while New York Rangers stymied the Pittsburgh Penguins. How can we explain the causes to these upset victories and could they be predicted before they happen?

Hockey fans will argue that momentum swings in a game matter because it dictates which team has the upper hand.  Momentum swings generate energy, timing and causes panic to the opposing team. Momentum swings come in a variety of plays such as a blocked shot, a huge hit, a bad bounce, a penalty, a huge save and last by not least, a goal.  An unpredictable momentum swing can come at the rally and support of a teammate such as the New York Rangers and their newest member Martin St. Louis and the passing of his mother recently. Since her death, the New York Rangers have won five straight games.

Can the NHL playoffs be predictable? If so, penalties will surely be a factor in the outcome.

Penalties minutes tells us how disciplined a team is. In hockey, penalties are deemed to be unnecessary opportunities given to your opponent. Similar in baseball when a pitcher walks a batter, he is giving up an unnecessary opportunity to his opponent. The discipline of a team determines how many penalties will be called and to what degree the outcome of the game will be determined by Even Strength or Man Advantage game-play.

 Even Strength is a key statistic because it tells us if a team’s success is sustainable. The Man Advantage statistic is important because it signals which teams counter their Even Strength weaknesses with a strong Power play or Penalty Kill. Teams that move onto the next round tend to be the well balanced in both.




Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Chicago Blackhawks are leading the series 1-0.

Chicago Blackhawks are a well-rounded team with few weaknesses. On the man advantage, they are dominating holding an impressive penalty kill at 91.7% and power play at 20.0%. Their even strength numbers are quite impressive, scoring more than 70.0% and having a high goal against percentage on the Even Strength bodes well with the trend of increased penalties. This is due to the fact that the Blackhawks have such a good penalty kill that goals they given up are mainly on even strength play. Chicago has a disciplined group by taking less than five penalties per game (9.6 PIMs/GAME).

The Los Angeles Kings are a unique team that prides themselves on defense both on the man advantage and even strength. The Kings have trouble scoring at even strength and their power play will need to produce more in order to counter the Blackhawks’ discipline. Los Angeles must keep composed and discipline to avoid penalties and giving the Blackhawk unnecessary opportunities. While the Kings appear to be the underdog in this match up, it’s important to note that if their defense and goalie can hold the Blackhawks to two goals or less each game, they will be successful.  Jonathan Quick is thought of as one of the NHL’s best goalies and could be a game changer.

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadians

New York Rangers are leading the series 2-0

The Montreal Canadians have a good mix of young talent and crafty veterans. They rely on their power play to score goals, countering their poor play in both even strength categories. Montreal has not been productive on the penalty kill, but they were able to cover that by being a disciplined team taking less than five penalties per game (9.6 PIMs/GAME). Their success has come in large part from the stellar play of goalie Carey Price, who is currently injured and will not return for the rest of the playoffs. If Montreal wants to get back in this series, they must find more consistency in even strength play while avoiding handing the Rangers additional opportunities on the power play.

The Rangers are a very good even strength team. They rely on their depth lines 1-3 to provide their scoring. Their defense is their strongest attribute, as their even strength goals against percentage holds to be the lowest out of the four teams remaining. Over the first two games in the third round, New York seems to be improving their man advantage and both penalty kill percentage and power play percentage. They are a well-disciplined team averaging a little over four penalties per game (8.4 PIMS/GAME). With goalie Henrik Lundqvist in net, they look like a tough opponent to overcome especially if they continue to balance out their game on the man advantage.


Under the pre-CBA rules, teams with the best “man-advantage” were valued higher, thus giving rise to their success. In the post-CBA era, teams cannot rely on power play goals to help them win games every night. It becomes a matter of sustainability and endurance. The only guarantee a referee has to a team, is that the game will start with even strength play. Whether the game has 40 penalties or 0 penalties, even strength play will happen and it is promoted to encourage fairness as long as a player doesn’t cross the line.

 The context is simple. Control the elements of the game that are controllable.  

Elements such as emotions, work ethic, timing, shooting, passing, aggressiveness, positive thinking and communication are all controllable player to player. The successful teams bring these characteristics together for a common goal. The Stanley Cup is representation of success, which has been acknowledged throughout hockey culture and history. Teams that follow the process the right way will be rewarded for their consistency and efforts, which history tells us is the ultimate predictor of success.

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David Benmocha
About the Author

Writer, David Benmocha, attended South Kent Prep School and graduated from Manhattanville College with a degree in Finance. He is involved with the Tampa Elite Hockey Club and takes classes at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Biostatistics. He is interested in sports history and predictive analytics. His goal is to be the GM of a sports franchise.

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  1. BigKahuna BigKahuna says:

    I’m really enjoying your series. It looks like teams that win are great 5 on 5 and even better on the penalty kill. If you’re building a team, those two areas must be solid and that’s where your money should be spent. I thought Thompson’s salary was way too high for what he gives the team, but after reading this, it seems justified.

  2. ITMAN says:

    Really good read. I really like the numbers stuff. Thanks.

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