Which players perform well in the playoffs, and which players struggle? By examining the playoff performances of all players in the post-lockout NHL and comparing them to each player's regular season performance, we can gain valuable insight into certain players and hopefully the game itself. Armed with appropriate statistics, we can use past performance to learn more about what to expect in the future, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
Choosing the right statistics with which to compare a player's regular season and playoff scoring is a real challenge. If you simply look at points-per-game differential, for instance, you will wind up with a list of mediocre players who were hot for a few games at the top, and great scorers who were kept off the scoresheet for several games in a single series at the bottom. The key is to define expectations for each player based on their regular season performance, and to judge players not just on how well they were met, but for how long as well.
Setting expectations based on the regular season is the easy part. I calculated each player's regular season PPG (points per game), then reduced it by one sixth. On average, all players score at a rate one sixth lower than their regular season performance. Even if you break players up by age, by rate of scoring, or by position, you'll find that this general rule applies. The expectation is that in the playoffs each player will score roughly 5/6th as many PPG as they did in the regular season.
To compare a player's playoff performance against these expectations, I multiplied the expected PPG against the number of playoff games played. That way if a player only played one series, he's not likely to provide any insightful information, unless he scored at a dramatically higher or lower rate. If a player played several rounds, he'd have to maintain his unusually high or low scoring for a longer period of time, which is exactly the type of player that can provide us with some insight.
By this metric, here are the players with the greatest single-season playoff performances in the post-lockout NHL, relative to the expectations they had set in their preceding regular season.
RGP: Games Played in the Regular season
RPTS: Points in the Regular season
PGP: Games Played in the Playoffs
PPTS: Points in the Playoffs
DIFF: The number of points they scored relative to expectations
Player Season Age RGP RPTS PGP PPTS DIFF
Johan Franzen 2007-08 27 72 38 16 18 +11.0
Marian Hossa 2007-08 28 72 66 20 26 +10.7
Fernando Pisani 2005-06 28 80 37 24 18 +8.8
Jamie Langenbrunner 2005-06 30 80 53 9 13 +8.0
Jaromir Jagr 2007-08 35 82 71 10 15 +7.8
Travis Moen 2006-07 24 82 21 21 12 +7.5
Todd Marchant 2005-06 32 79 34 16 13 +7.3
Patrik Elias 2005-06 29 38 45 9 16 +7.1
Chris Pronger 2005-06 30 80 56 24 21 +7.0
Rob Niedermayer 2006-07 31 82 16 21 10 +6.6
Two players stand out in particular as having overachieved in their point production: linemates Johan Franzen and Marian Hossa of last year's Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings. In terms of age, the youngest player to significantly exceed expectations is Travis Moen at age 24. On the flip side, veteran Jaromir Jagr at 35 was the most seasoned player to significantly exceed expectations. Everyone else is between ages 27-32. The list includes both high-scoring forwards and checking specialists, but only one defencemen, Chris Pronger.
Now let's examine the ten players who most significantly failed to score in the playoffs at the expected rate based on their regular season performance.
Player Season Age RGP RPTS PGP PPTS DIFF
Daniel Cleary 2007-08 28 63 42 22 3 -9.2
Jarret Stoll 2005-06 23 82 68 24 10 -6.6
Craig Adams 2005-06 28 67 21 25 0 -6.5
Maxim Afinogenov 2005-06 25 77 73 18 8 -6.2
Henrik Sedin 2006-07 25 82 81 12 4 -5.9
Kevyn Adams 2005-06 30 82 23 25 0 -5.8
Daniel Sedin 2006-07 25 81 84 12 5 -5.4
Chris Phillips 2006-07 28 82 26 20 0 -5.3
Mike Comrie 2006-07 25 65 44 20 6 -5.3
Paul Stastny 2007-08 21 66 71 9 3 -5.1
Daniel Cleary is the clear leader, just barely coming within 10 points of his expected playoff point production last season. In terms of ages, the oldest player to score significantly fewer points than would be expected is 30-year-old Kevyn Adams. Paul Stastny at 21 and Jarret Stoll at 23 are the younger players, everyone else is between ages 25-28. Chris Phillips in the only defencemen, and while it's mostly high-scoring forwards that disappoint, there are also some checking line forwards that got shut down completely.
Examining single seasons can provide some insight, but by combining the totals for all three post-lockout NHL seasons we can see what types of players consistently exceed expectations during the playoffs.
Johan Franzen +13.4
Patrik Elias +12.4
Scott Gomez +11.5
Jamie Langenbrunner +10.7
Chris Pronger +9.9
Brad Richards +9.5
Travis Moen +9.0
Fernando Pisani +8.8
Marian Hossa +7.7
Tim Connolly +7.5
Johan Franzen and Patrik Elias aren't one season wonders and remain atop the list, but for consistency check out Scott Gomez. Gomez comes in at #3, despite not having any particular single season stand out in the top ten. Fernando Pisani was the only player to make the top ten with just a single season.
Here is the list of the players who most significantly failed to meet playoff scoring expectations over the three post-lockout NHL seasons combined.
Maxim Afinogenov -10.8
Joe Thornton -9.4
Andy McDonald -7.5
Antoine Vermette -7.0
Thomas Vanek -6.6
Jarret Stoll -6.6
Teemu Selanne -6.5
Craig Adams -6.5
Petr Sykora -6.3
Kris Draper -6.2
Maxim Afinogenov leads the list with two relatively low scoring playoff performances. You may be surprised to see someone who has scored 30 points in 35 games as the 2nd greatest disappointment, but by scoring 335 points in 246 regular season games, Joe Thornton set expectations for his playoff performances unattainably high. Jarret Stoll and Craig Adams were the only ones to make this list based on only a single season, but none of the remaining eight players can boast a single performance-exceeding season. Daniel Cleary, who has the worst single-season playoff performance, isn't on this list thanks to scoring 12 points in 18 games in his previous postseason.
In conclusion, by using this metric to set scoring expectations for each player based on their regular season performance, we can establish which players consistently either exceed or fail to meet them. Keep your eyes on Johan Franzen, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Jamie Langenbrunner and Chris Pronger as the postseason progresses.
A good statistic uses the past to give us insight into the future. What happens to players who have particularly good or bad postseasons the following regular season? For example, Johan Franzen's scoring increased from 38 points to 59 the season following his amazing playoff run and Marian Hossa went from 29 goals to 40. Can we use playoff performance as an indicator for how much scoring they'll achieve in the future? Stay tuned!
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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