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Skill Kills: NHL's Dead Stars

September 4, 2018

 The "Skills Kills" series is an in-depth look at how the increase of skill across all players has the paradoxical result of reducing the affect of skill on outcomes; game results.  

 

For this article we seek to answer the question "is John Tavares worth it?".  More generally, should NHL teams be paying big bucks for superstars?

 

If the best players in the game command the big money, then the results should prove their worth, right?

 

The table below shows the percentage of times the league MVP reaches the league championship finals.   The NBA MVP carries his team to the championship finals 43% percent of the time, whereas the NHL MVP manages to influence this outcome only 11% of the time.  For the NBA, that's good investment certainty.  

 

If you read - and believe - the first article in the Skill Kills Series: Why the Golden Knights are Winners; NHL Losers, then you've already come to grips with the fact that hockey is more of a 'luck-driven' sport than most.  

 

So hockey is a luck sport.  But as hockey players become more skilled, surely they will overcome luck, so that skill prevails, right?  Let's look at the performance of some of the top NHL players in 2018.  McDavid's (scoring champ)  missed the playoffs.  All-world goalie Carey Price? no playoffs.  How about the league's MVP Tayler Hall?  Yes, his team was bounced early from the playoffs. 

 

By definition, the league's MVP has the greatest influence on the team's performance.  So, if that outstanding 'performance' resulted in failure; what does that say about the state of the NHL?  

 

Lets take a deeper look at the link between superstar performance and results in the NHL.  The data visual below plots NHL MVPs from 1970 to 2018, with their teams playoff performance.  

The trend line shows a decline in relationship between league MVP and playoff performance.  2005 (Martin St. Louis) was the last time an NHL MVP made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs.  Between 1971 and 1991, the league's MVP brought their respective teams to the finals 12 times.  Of course there are many factors for this decline including expansion and the salary cap.  But the fact remains, the current NHL dynamic results in a decreased link between skill and results.  Having the MVP on your team doesn't help much nowadays.  

 

Ok.  I have presented this research in a depressed tone; not my intension.  Like any good research finding, it's purpose is rooted in trying to understand the subject.  I love hockey, and understanding better will undoubtedly lead to progress.  In this case, understanding how skill impacts the game (or not) can pave the way for well-focus rule changes to benefit skill. 

 

So, is JT worth it?  

 

Please debate and comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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