The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been a snooze festival so far


Image for article titled Phew, there's been a lot of bad hockey so far

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As a hockey fan, it’s wonderful that in this new era of ESPN coverage, the playoff games will start staggered — 7, 7:30, 9:30, and 10 Eastern — so that that first round saw the most exciting round of the playoffs of all can happen, we can watch as much playoff hockey as possible and not have to be stuck with simultaneous breaks.

Unfortunately, for the first few days, almost all playoff hockey stunk. If you’re not watching your own team in the playoffs, all you want in the spring of hockey is overtime.

In the first three days we got an overtime game. It was undoubtedly a glorious overtime game, Igor Shesterkin Make 79 saves, the Rangers goal controversially called off in the third period, the Penguins eventually won in the third overtime through Evgeni Malkin’s distraction. But it was still just an overtime game.

Is this a harbinger of boring playoffs? Are the hockey gods just saving the drama for later? As for the story, there’s not much to say about a pattern.

There have been 422 playoff games this century, including Game 1 by Penguins-Rangers, but not including five qualifying round games and a warm-up game in the coronavirus bubble. That’s an average of about 21 overtime games a year, and it’s ranged from a meager nine in 2000 to 27 in 2013, 2017 and 2021.

Image for article titled Phew, there's been a lot of bad hockey so far

Of course, there are more games in the first round, so expect those blue bars to be the biggest. A few times there have been more second-round overtime affairs than first-round affairs (2007, 2009, 2016), but there also seems to be no correlation between the number of overtime games from round to round.

Another way to look at this is the percentage of overtime games in each round in a playoff year. A particularly chaotic first round will make up more than half of overtime hockey in any given year, and you can also see where casual fans might start in the Conference Finals, where there’s limited drama compared to the previous weeks, but not nor the stakes of the Stanley Cup final.

Image for article titled Phew, there's been a lot of bad hockey so far

The rounds play out independently, as you probably expect. A first round will generally yield 8-12 overtime games, a second round will give you 4-8 more, then 2-4 in an average conference final and one or two in the finals. Small samples every year lead to a lot of turnover.

So one thing we’re good at measuring is how exciting the playoffs are in any given year. Across four rounds of the best-of-seven series, there are always 105 possible playoff games, meaning 105 chances of overtime: 56 in the first round, then 28, 14, and seven. In this way we can see that the 2000 playoffs, which we may remember as particularly dramatic, were truly saved by the finals and by the circumstances of the few overtime games played during the playoffs.

There’s always room for further analysis on a case-by-case basis, and this metric could be improved by adding data on the length of overtime, what games the overtime was in and so on, but the formula is just for a quick and easy tracker only the percentage of possible games going to overtime calculated after each round and then added together.

Conveniently, 100 means you had very exciting playoffs, as was the case in 2013 and 2014. And yes, the 2018 playoffs were really interesting only because of the novelty of the two expansions Golden Knights the finals and the capitals finally win a title.

Image for article titled Phew, there's been a lot of bad hockey so far

So far we only have the one overtime game in the very first round. That’s a score of 1.8 if we don’t see an extra second of hockey this spring. Here’s a bet that won’t happen.

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