Saturday, 8 June 2013

NHL - A History of Team Performance

The NHL has been running for 96 seasons since the inaugural 1917-18 season. That's a long time.

With such a long history, I thought it might be interesting to plot each team's regular season record against time, to see if any patterns emerged. Here is the result:

Probably the most obvious features is the dominance of the Montreal Canadiens for much of the league's history. Starting in the mid-1940's and not fading until the mid-1990's, Montreal was a force to be reckoned with, and this is reflected by their 24 Stanley Cups.

Periods of Bruins dominance can be seen in the 1930's and, more prominently, in the 1970's during the Bobby Orr years. Similar trends can be seen with other dynasties: Gretzky's Oilers, Howe's and Yzerman's Red Wings, etc.

Another interesting feature that can be pulled from this graph is the stability of the league over time. This can be inferred from large spikes in the graph. Most of these spikes are caused by teams either entering or leaving the league, disturbing the balance of power between the rest of the teams; the team entering or leaving the league's share of points are not evenly distributed between the remaining teams.

The NHL's early days were extremely turbulent; the First and Second World Wars and the Great Depression forcing many teams to fold. The Original Six era brought about a relative calm, with teams growing better or worse much more gradually. This peace would be upset by the NHL's expansion following the 1966-67 season, and wouldn't reach another equilibrium until the late 1980's, which was cut short by further expansion. The league hasn't really reached an equilibrium ever since.

The introduction of the salary cap following the 2004-05 lockout probably further destabilized the league (at least in the short term), but it is quite clear that teams are becoming much more equal in terms of their share of points. Barring further expansion, it is unlikely that a team will ever again dominate the league like the Montreal Canadiens once did.

There are probably more trends in this data, but I will leave it to the reader to find them.

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