The Octopus Dynasties



Whenever a team has a lot of success over an extended period of time, fans want to celebrate the achievements and analysts want to categorize them. So, with the current Chicago Blackhawks, people are not only asking if they are a great team (they are) or if they are a historically good team (they are), but if they are a dynasty. That question is trickier to answer, mostly because there isn’t really a consensus about what it means.

Once upon a time there was a fairly simple definition of what a dynasty was. It served a purpose at the time, but times have changed. Traditionally a dynasty was understood to be a team that won three consecutive Stanley Cups or four cups in five years. The problem with that definition is that it came into being in the original six years. Using that criteria, in a six team league with perfect parity, a new dynasty would arise every 21.6 years . In contrast, using the same criteria in a thirty team league, we would expect to see a new dynasty every 551 years . So it makes sense that we haven’t seen a dynasty since 1988, but have there been no good teams since that time, no great teams?

These calculations are based on a league where all things are equal. Of course we know that not all things are equal; players age and get injured, some teams can afford to spend to the cap and some teams can’t/won’t, Cup winning teams return with targets on their back from opposing players and increased salary expectations from their own players. The league does not (and most people would argue should not) have perfect parity, but these calculations do help to contextualize the achievements being discussed.

In the Original Six era, a team only needed to win eight games and two rounds in the playoffs. Those eight games came to represented, especially in Detroit, by the eight legs an octopus. These days, a team needs to win sixteen playoff games to win the cup and therefore qualify for the dynasty conversation. So what happens if instead of using ‘winning the Stanley Cup’ as the criteria, we maintain a consistent expectation of a team winning eight playoff games? We could call it having an “octopus year” and compile a list of “octopus dynasties.”

But before we look at the results, we need to come to terms with some of the implications of what it will mean to broaden the definition of what a dynasty is (no matter what way we do it.)

The list of dynasties will get longer – This is sort of the point, but it will also seemingly undermine the accomplishments of previous dynasties. I believe this needs to happen, but it will likely upset traditionalists. Unless you add new dynasties and remove old ones, which won’t go over any better.

It’s possible we could see overlapping/concurrent dynasties – Unless one of your rules is that we can only have one dynasty at a time, this is inevitable. Even in the “Original Six” era, this was possible in some ways. For example, when the Leafs won the cup in 1967, that was their fourth cup in six years. Was that team fundamentally different from the technical dynasty Leafs team that won the cup in 1962, ’63 and ’64? But in the two intervening years and the two following years, the cup was won by the Montreal Canadiens. Those four cups in five years make them a dynasty. So, from 1965-67, did we have overlapping dynasties?

[1]The odds that the championship team also won the two previous years are 1/36. The odds that the championship team won the previous season, not the season before that, and then the two season before that are 5/216. Combined, those odds are 11/216, but this also includes teams that have won the previous three (or more) cups which is 1/216 and are then not new dynasties, which leaves 10/216 or 1/21.6.


Aside: A team could be considered a dynasty without ever winning the cup – If there was an NHL equivalent to the Buffalo Bills, a team that lost in the championships four years in a row, would they be a team for the ages, or a laughingstock? In popular opinion, probably a laughingstock, but in statistical terms, I believe they qualify as a dynasty.

The Traditional dynasties are understood as follows:

WL 1

Applying the 8 playoff wins criteria, we get the following list of Octopus dynasties

WL 2


[1]For this table I included only teams that had won three (or more) consecutive cups or had won 4 cups in 5 years. Some people extend it to include teams that won 5 cups in 7 years (40’s Leafs, Oilers) and 6 cups in 9 years (60’s Canadiens) but for consistency I stuck with the strictest definition. Also, the Leafs won the Cup in ’44-’45 and in ’50-’51, giving them 4 in 5 years a few different ways, so I only counted the streak of 3. The Hockey Hall of Fame maintains a different list, which includes the early 1920’s Ottawa Senators and the early 1950’s Detroit Red Wings, but they don’t fit the same quantitative criteria.

[1]Since point systems have changed over the years, some tallies include overtime losses and ties, and winning percentages in the extra overtime loss point era are adjusted for consistency.

It’s pretty easy to look over this list and say who does and doesn’t deserve the dynasty label. The hard part is coming up with a criteria that is simple to understand and has a consistent difficulty/probability across the eras. Whether you love or hate the results, the Octopus Dynasty definition does that. So, what is your take? Is this definition too loose? What would work better? Which teams don’t deserve to be there?




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