It’s hard to believe, but almost half of the NHL season is already in the books. At this moment, the Anaheim Ducks lead the league with 54 points. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference. Montreal is currently #4 in the East, while Toronto is currently in playoff contention in the #7 spot. Winnipeg and Vancouver occupy the #6th and #7th spots respectively in the Western Conference. Edmonton is way out of contention and could be looking to make a big splash on the trade market, by selling Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle. Ottawa and Calgary are on the outside looking in, but they could conceivably go on a run and sneak into the playoffs. At the present time, Canadian teams are in a much better position to compete for the Stanley Cup than they were last season. In the past few years, there has been some discussion with respect to why it is that a Canadian-based team has not won the Stanley Cup in almost 22 years. Canada is tough to beat in international competition, particularly in the Olympics, but Canada has not seemed to fare as well when chasing the Stanley Cup.
Incidentally, and perhaps fittingly enough, the last team to do it was the Montreal Canadiens (in 1993). Montreal made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year and had it not been for the injury to Carey Price, they may have made it more of a contest against the New York Rangers.
Some have dreamed up some very elaborate and complicated theories. For me, though, the answer is a bit simpler. It comes down to math. Only 23% of NHL teams are based in Canada. Until a few years ago, when Winnipeg got a brand new iteration of their Jets, only 20% of the teams called Canada home. The multiple expansions, starting in the early 90’s, with two teams in south Florida, two new teams in California, followed later by new teams in Atlanta (which would later become the new Winnipeg), Nashville, and Columbus made it even harder for Canadian-based teams to compete. All of those expansion franchises were US-based. To compound matters, in that same time period, Canada effectively lost two teams to relocation. Quebec became the Colorado Avalanche and the old Jets of Winnipeg moved to Phoenix. As the States were gaining seven brand new teams, Canada gave up two.
Speaking of those expansion teams, over the past twenty years or so, two of them won the Stanley Cup and a third made an appearance in the Cup Finals. To add insult to injury, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup twice in the past 20 years. For all intents and purposes, Canada would have had two more Stanley Cup wins since 1993 if the Avalanche were still in Quebec City. But instead, Denver celebrated those wins.
All of this expansion is enough to drive an Original Six purist crazy. However, over the past 20 years, the Original Six clubs have fared much better than Canadian-based teams. Despite the expansion frenzy, Original Six teams brought home the Cup seven times and 11 of them at least made it to the Finals in that span – and none of those teams were Canadian. Indeed, every American Original Six team has won the Stanley Cup at least once in the past twenty years. Teams in Canada have not won the Cup at all in that period, and appeared in the Finals just five times. Put another way, out of 38 possible Stanley Cup Finals berths, Canadian teams found their way into that mix just 26% of the time. Lest we forget that in 2005, there was no season due to the lockout. Obviously, had any of those Canadian teams met up with another Canadian team in the Finals, Canada would be assured of a Cup win. But that simply didn’t occur.
There are those Canadian hockey enthusiasts who will tell you that the location of the team doesn’t matter. Instead, they will argue that it is the composition of the team. For example, when the Bruins beat the Canucks in 2011, some were quick to note that the Bruins had more Canadian players on their roster than Vancouver – and that Vancouver actually had more Americans. Though the “American” team won, they won because they actually boasted more Canadians than did their “Canadian”-based opponent. That same logic does not hold though when we look at the most recent Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins lost in 2013, yet they had more Canadian players on their roster than did the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had more American players. Not only did a non-Canadian-based team win the Cup in 2013, but they did it by beating a team that had more Canadians on their roster. Ouch.
The Way Off The Post blog was curious to look at the composition of players on 15 of the NHL’s teams.
We were interested to see whether those teams among the best in the NHL featured more Canadians or Americans as compared to those at the bottom of the league. We did not run any statistical tests, but by looking at the raw data, we have tried to glean whether the composition of player nationalities on teams has any impact on their success. To make matters more interesting, we also looked at the composition of European players. Are the league’s best teams comprised of the most Canadians on their rosters? Are the league’s worst filled with mostly Americans? Let’s examine this further. We looked at 15 different teams, a sample which represents 50% of the league.
Let’s start by looking at Chicago, San Jose, St. Louis, Anaheim, Boston, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Minnesota. One of those teams, the Penguins, currently second in the East, boasts of the 5th greatest percentage of American-born players in the NHL. Three other teams (the Avs, Kings, and Bruins) carry rosters that have most, third most, and 7th most Canadians, respectively. Still another three of them (Chicago, Anaheim, and Minnesota) find themselves without any distinction with respect to the composition of nationalities on their teams. In other words, they are neither in the Top or Bottom third with respect to the number of Canadians or Americans on their team. They are somewhere in the middle. St. Louis (4th in the West) and San Jose (7th) boast the 9th and 10th most Canadians on their rosters. While they don’t have a high percentage of American players, they have a lot more American players than several other teams. Six of these teams are in the Top 10 with respect to having the greatest number of Canadian players. That said, 10% (that is, one team) are in the Top 5 when it comes to the percentage of American players and another 30% are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Chicago, one of the league’s best teams, is only 46% Canadian (to go with 21% American). San Jose and St. Louis, which are also playoff contenders, only have the 9th and 10th highest percentage of Canadians, respectively. Though the Blues also rank 25th in the percentage of Americans. The leagues’ best team, the Ducks, are in the position they are in without ranking significantly on any of those lists. It isn’t really until you get to the 7th and 9th best teams in the East (the Maple Leafs, in 7th place and the Bruins, who are currently out of the playoffs) that you start to see teams carrying a percentage of Canadian players within the top ten begin to emerge. The Bruins for example, have the seventh most Canadians on their roster (an impressive 63% of Bruins are Canadians). The Penguins are 2nd in the East and yet they actually have the 5th most Americans! Colorado, which is near the bottom in the West is the team with the most Canadians (76%) and they also rank among the lowest for the percentage of Americans with only 12%. (29th). The Kings, who won the Cup last season, are at number #8 in the West right now, and they have the third highest percentage of Canadians (72%) and they are tied with the Avs at 29th for the fewest Americans. Phoenix and Minnesota are actually tied for 25th in the percentage of Canadians (just 46%) on their rosters. They have more non-Canadians (Americans and/or Europeans than Canadians).
Let’s now look at five more teams: Columbus, the Islanders, Florida, Buffalo, and Edmonton. Four of them rank 25th or lower in percent of Canadian players on their rosters. These teams were among the worst last season. Some are still just as bad, except for one, the New York Islanders, who have done a complete 180. Almost half the Islanders team (48%) is Canadian. About 25% are American. Edmonton, this season’s worst team, is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the percentages of Canadian and American players.
Incidentally, do you know which team has the most Europeans? It is Detroit. A clear majority, fully 55% of their team is European. Swedes account for most of that as a staggering 39% of their team is Swedish. They have almost more Swedish players than American and Canadian players combined! When people refer to the Red Wings as the Swedish National Team, they really aren’t kidding. What does having so many Europeans and so many Swedes in particular get you? Well, right now…it’s good enough for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has the fewest Europeans (only 11%) and it has among the fewest American players (14%) while carrying the 2nd highest percentage of Canadians (75%). For what that is all worth, right now the Leafs are 7th in the Eastern Conference.
What Does It All Mean?
So what is the answer? Does having more Canadians on your team give you a better chance of success in the NHL? Does boasting among the largest number of Americans on your team as compared to other teams make you more likely to be in the cellar?
The simple answer appears to be no. While some of the top teams in the league are among the teams with the greatest percentage of Canadian players, other top teams are among those that have the biggest percentage of American players, and still other really good teams are somewhere in the middle. For example, one of best teams in the league, Chicago, is not among the Top 10 for most Canadians or Americans, nor is it in the bottom 10 in either category. They are in the Top 10 for most European players, but just barely. Another one of the better teams, Pittsburgh, has the 5th highest percentage of American players. So at the end of the day, it’s pretty much a wash here. Having a greater or lesser number of players from one nationality or another does not seem to matter among the league’s top 10 teams.
This is a very small sample size taken over a very limited period of time, so it would be difficult to prove any of this statistically. Empirically however, the take home message is that having more Canadian players on your team will not necessarily make you a great team, but having among the fewest Canadians playing for you could hurt a team more than it helps.
Here are some other cool facts dug up from our research:
• The Minnesota Wild have the highest percentage of native Minnesotans on their team. 13% of the players are from Minnesota. Talk about homegrown talent.
• New Jersey ranks 29th in the percentage of Canadian players and they are 3rd in the number of American players and 3rd in the number of European players.
• Florida and Nashville have the most balanced teams with respect to percentages of players from various nationalities. When averaged out, Canadians, Americans, and Europeans are represented in almost equal thirds on those teams…what is more, both teams are tied for 1st in the percentage of American players.
• Taken as percentages, no team has a greater percentage of Americans as compared to Canadians. Some are completely even in this category, but in no instance is the American percentage higher than the Canadian percentage. Going by raw numbers, some teams may indeed have one or two more American versus Canadian players, but percentage-wise, they would be even.
• The most “Canadian” Canadian team is not the Canadiens. It is Toronto (75% Canadian-born).
• The least “Canadian” Canadian team is actually the Canadiens (only 46% Canadian). To be fair, they are tied with Winnipeg for the honor of being the least “Canadian” Canadian team.
• The most “American” American team is of course the aforementioned Florida Panthers.
• The least “American” American team is Boston (8%). Also among the least “American” are Washington and Philadelphia. Just don’t tell Congress that their “home” team isn’t “American” enough.
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