UPDATED - Mean, Median, Mode: How Many Games Does It Take To Win The Stanley Cup?

Ed. Note: Bumped up from the FanPosts.

The answer is twenty-three, apparently.  Read on...

During the 1986-87 NHL Season, the League instituted the four-round, best-of-seven playoff format it uses today.  There had been four playoff rounds dating back to 1974-75, but the opening round was always shorter.  It began life as a best-of-three during which the division winners got byes (which is why the Flyers didn't play in the preliminary round when they won their second Cup).  After the WHA folded and its surviving teams were added to the NHL, all teams who made the playoffs played in the preliminary round and it was extended to a best-of-five series.  This changed again in 1986-87, when the NHL decided that the better team should have the chance to prove itself in every round, so the preliminary became a best-of-seven as well.

I have been thinking for a little while just HOW many playoff games it takes for most teams to win the Stanley Cup.  Since the current format was adopted in 1986-87, the fewest amount of games a team can play is sixteen, and the most one can play is twenty-eight.  No championship team has done either, though two have come close.  The median amount of games played would be twenty-two.  As a reminder, the median of a finite list of numbers can be found by arranging all numbers from lowest to highest value and picking the middle one:

16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28

Conventional wisdom would suggest that most teams who win the Cup do so while playing close to the median number of necessary games.  But who's done what?  Read on after the jump and find out how this affects the Flyers, if at all...

Here are all of the Stanley Cup winners – along with number of games each team played – since the current playoff format was adopted in 1986-87:

Next, how many instances of each set of games played do we have?

  • 18 GP: 1
  • 20 GP: 3
  • 21 GP: 3
  • 22 GP: 4
  • 23 GP: 7
  • 24 GP: 3
  • 25 GP: 1

So, we can see that most teams who win the Cup play anywhere from twenty to twenty-four games.  Interestingly enough, nearly one-third of all champions have played one more than the median number of games necessary.  This would make twenty-three the mode – the value that occurs most frequently in our set.

If we were to find the mean, or average, of all games played by Cup winners since 1987, we come up with 22.1363636…, or just over 22 games.  (Maybe that accounts for overtime?)  So the mean of all games played by Cup winners is very close to the median of possible games played, yet both are slightly lower than the mode seen in actual games played.

What does any of this have to do with the Finals?  Nothing really, but I find it interesting that, no matter who wins, they will do so while having played a number of games within the most common range of twenty to twenty-four GP:

  • Chicago can win the Cup by playing a total of 22 or 23 playoff games.  If they win on Wednesday (Heaven forbid), they will have played 22 total games.  They will add to the mode of 23 if they win the series in seven games.
  • The Flyers can win the Cup only by playing a total of 24 playoff games.

Don’t ask me why I wrote this; it’s just been on my mind.  If anyone can find a deeper significance in these numbers, I’d love to hear all about it.

This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.

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