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March 24, 2011
Howe and Why
Lucky Ducks

by Robert Vollman

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It's February 11, 2011, the Ducks are in Calgary's Saddledome with less than three minutes left in the third period, trailing 4-3. Curtis Glencross is called for hooking, and it takes the legendary Teemu Selanne just 11 seconds to capitalize with the man advantage, sending the game to overtime, where Cam Fowler's marker secures the two points.

Calgary got their opportunity for revenge March 20, 2011 in Anaheim's Pond, once again leading 4-3 with three minutes left in the third, but this time it was Rene Bourque taking the untimely penalty. Once again, the brilliant Teemu Selanne capitalizes, sending the game to overtime where Corey Perry would help them prevail.

The officials could just as easily have been looking somewhere else and missed those two calls. They could have just as easily spotted Selanne swatting Flame goalie Henrik Karlsson in the head, or busting defenseman Mark Giordano wide open with a high stick. A game is full of lucky breaks—some of them are in your favor, and some of them aren't—and while they average out in the end, were it not for these two timely lucky breaks, the Ducks would be down four points and their rival Flames up two, a six-point swing which could easily be enough to change this year's postseason participants. So are the Anaheim Ducks this year's lucky postseason team, much as the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche were in 2009-10?

Quantifying Luck

Even in a light-hearted analysis like this, it would be completely irresponsible to reach any conclusions over such a small and anecdotal sample size. After all, the late Glencross penalty was the first and only Calgary infraction the officials had caught all day, otherwise Selanne could just as easily have scored earlier, eliminating the need for late game heroics. Is there a more responsible way to quantify which teams are getting more than their fair share of the bounces?

Basically there are four easy ways to quantify luck that immediately jump to mind:

1. Having an overtime/shootout record, which has been repeatedly shown to be little more than a statistical flip of the coin, sufficiently differing from .500.

2. Having a record significantly different from what one would calculate based on the team's goal differential.

3. Having a particularly hot or cold shooting or save percentage (see PDO, both of which tend to regress to the mean, often with a vengeance.

4. Having a total number and estimated impact of injuries far higher or lower than league average.

Fortunately, the impact of each of these can be quantified in points, and the Anaheim Ducks score very favorably in all four categories:

1. Their 12-5 overtime/shootout record is tied with the New York Rangers as the best in the league, earning them an extra 3.5 points.

2. Based on their goal differential, they have 5.8 more points than they would be expected to have, second in the league to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

3. They have the sixth-best PDO in the league, behind only Vancouver, Boston, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Dallas.

4. While it would be too time-consuming to calculate the degree to which every NHL has been hit by injuries, the Ducks core of Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Lubomir Visnovsky have played over 93% of the time.

Though the following table doesn't include the impact of injuries, includes some double-counting and is meant more as a rough estimate than a careful analysis, this quick-and-dirty computation has the Ducks topping the list as this year's luckiest team, benefitting perhaps to the tune of 12.6 points.

OT/SO: Impact of luck based on their OT/Shootout record
GDiff: Impact of luck based on their Goal Differential
PDO: Impact of luck based on their combined shooting and save percentages

Team      OT/SO GDiff PDO Total
Anaheim    3.5   5.8  3.3  12.6
Minnesota -0.5   4.0  6.6  10.1
New Jersey 3.0   4.4  2.4   9.8
Dallas     0.5   3.9  4.2   8.6
Tampa Bay  1.5   9.3 -3.0   7.8
…
Edmonton  -3.0  -1.8 -1.2  -6.0
Florida    0.0  -6.8  0.0  -6.8
St. Louis -1.0  -3.6 -2.4  -7.0
NY Rangers 3.5 -13.8 -3.3  -7.0
Nashville -1.0  -3.6 -6.6 -11.2

If a few pucks bounced differently, Anaheim and Dallas would be far out of the playoff picture, and it would actually be St. Louis desperately chasing Calgary for the last spot. In the East, a couple of breaks could have meant that the Rangers would already be sitting comfortably with a home-ice seed while Tampa Bay fought with Buffalo and Carolina for the final spots instead.

Mighty Ducks?

What does all this mean for Anaheim? They're still fighting for their lives with Chicago, Calgary and Dallas for those final postseason berths, but should they squeeze in, does all of this mean they'll go splat?

No, not necessarily. They may draw inspiration from last year's Montreal Canadiens, who despite having one of the worst regulation records in the NHL, leveraged their good fortune all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. Or perhaps even the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, the first benefactors of the Bettman era, who took one of that year's weakest regulation time teams all the way to within a bounce of hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Everybody loves an underdog, because it's hard to resist rooting for the team the scratches and claws and scrambles for every scrap that falls from the table of luck. Statisticians aren't supposed to be sentimentalists, and perhaps we've watched too many Emilio Estevez movies, but we can't help but hope that Selanne and the gang getting first crack at the Canucks. Quack, quack!

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Draft Mid-Terms (03/23)
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Howe and Why (03/16)
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Premium Article From Daigle To Datsyuk (03/24)

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