Correlation between Defence & Winning

Which statement is more accurate? Defence wins, or offence wins? No one ever says "offence wins", so surely the numbers will show that defence is king, right?

Ottawa Senator's coach Guy Boucher indicated in his season-ending presser that defence (lack of) was the number one issue in the teams demise. Do the numbers backed this statement up? The Sens were second last in the league at keeping the puck out of the net. But they were also poor at putting the puck in the net! Well below league average.

So, lets take a look at the correlation between defence and offence, and winning. Below are 2 charts; a different way to look at the final NHL standings. The first chart shows teams in order of defence proficiency (BAR) with Standings Points (DOT). I highlighted all teams that made the playoffs. The second chart is the same; showing the top offensive teams GOALS FOR (BAR).

How the Numbers Shake-out

This year, 2 teams were below average for goals against and still made the playoffs; New Jersey and Pittsburgh. The 2 teams they supplanted - St. Louis and Dallas - had the 6th and 7th best defence in the league, respectively.

Goals for? 3 teams were just below the league average, and made the playoffs - Columbus, LA and Anaheim. The 8th best offence - NY Islanders - was the only strong offensive team not to make the playoffs.


Of course, you need both good offence and defence to win, which is supported by the GF/GA Differential Chart below. As far as picking a "winner" between offence and defence? It is somewhat surprising that 2 of the top 10 defensive teams - St. Louis & Dallas - did not make the playoffs. More so that these teams are loaded with top-end offensive stars. Without looking at the stats; would you have said Dallas had elite defensive numbers, and below average offence?

For the Sens, having the best defence in the league would not have guaranteed a playoff spot, unless that defence makes more offence (in the Sens case, they would have needed about 20 more goals, and the best defence in the league, to make the playoffs. )

Hockey is a complex game. Defence is a cornerstone of how the game should be played. Defence will generate offence. Good teams score first, squeeze opponents to death and wait patiently for breaks to score again. Good teams have the lead, keep it, and score empty net goals.

So, when a coach says "defence wins hockey games", one must decipher a deeper meaning. It really means that defence comes before offence; that defence begats offence.

Do you think this is accurate? Do you think offence is more important than defence? How do you read these numbers?

Please comment below and on social media. Debate is half the fun!


data source:

ANNEX: Interactive Charts