Monday, August 29, 2011

On Whether Or Not Europeans 'Disappear' In The Playoffs

Several days ago, I asked the good readers of Driving Play what they'd like to see in a post. 'djschoo' commented that he'd like to see whether or not Europeans 'disappear' in the playoffs. I thought this was a great question and I was so excited about figuring this out that right away I decided to put it off until tomorrow. And the next day. However, it's nearly two weeks later and I've returned with an answer.

I finally decided on a simple method to see if European players 'disappear' - I would take European forwards who played on playoff teams who scored at least .5 points per game and played in at least 40 games in a given season. I would then look at their playoff point per game totals and compare them to their regular season totals. If the Europeans did worse in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, they're clearly chokers who hate winning. Simple enough, right?

However, I saw a problem with this method. Defenses are better in the playoffs, so I had no idea by how much a player's points per game would be 'expected' to decrease. Without a touchstone, I wouldn't have any idea how much better or worse Europeans are doing compared to a theoretical average. So I used Canadian-born forwards as my touchstone, since we all know they have heart and grit and grow up dreaming about the Stanley Cup. However, I did not edit out French Canadian players, so this study is not exactly comprehensive. (That's a joke, people). Also, I only used Swedes, Finns, Slovaks, Czechs, and former Soviets as 'Europeans' - apologies to Thomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht, and Marco Sturm, but they're not covered in here, mostly out of my laziness. All numbers are courtesy of's wonderful Play Index feature.

Before I show the numbers, I do want to point this out, as I knew this would be an issue before I even began the study. Players play different amounts of playoff games based on how well their team does. I therefore knew I'd run into 'survivorship bias' - the farther a particular player X got in the playoffs, the more likely it would be that he personally did well, since his team was winning games. Plus, the more games a given player plays, the more impact he's going to have on the summed ratio of points to games. 40 games and a .5 points per game minimum is going to cover most of the top forwards on a given team. If most of the top forwards on that team do well, the team is likely going to do well in the playoffs. Let's keep that in mind as we look at the numbers.

The first table is just going to show points per game for Canadians in the regular season and playoffs, compared with European points per game in the regular season and the playoffs. I've bolded who had the smaller difference (i.e. who was 'better') each year.

YearCanada RegCanada PoffDifferenceEuro RegEuro PoffDifference

We can see that the Canadians beat the Europeans 4 out of the last 6 years, in terms of having a better points per game difference. Okay, so we all knew that Europeans had no heart and intentionally tank in the first round so they can go play in the World Championships, which is what they really care about. However, this table doesn't tell the whole story. I decided to tally all the games played and all the points scored by the players in this study over this stretch to compare the total since the lockout.


And now, Europeans:


We can see that the Canadians have -.106 points per game in the playoffs as compared to the regular season, whereas the Europeans have -.136. So, Canada wins, right? Not necessarily - here's some reasons why that number could be lower for Europeans:

A: Survivorship bias. I know I went over this before, but the numbers make it more stark. In 3 of the 6 seasons, the Europeans have accounted for 300 or fewer playoff games played. That's not a lot. Also, the distribution of European players throughout the league is grossly uneven. The two years where European players beat out Canadians in terms of regular season and playoff point differential also happen to be the two years when the Detroit Red Wings made the Stanley Cup Finals. The Red Wings are heavy on European players. In essence, while there are teams without a strong European presence who make the Cup Finals, there are very few teams without at least 2 Canadian forwards in their top 6. This means there will almost always be several Canadian players who have long and great playoff runs, but that's not true of Europeans. In 2010, only one European forward qualified for this study who played in the Cup Finals (Marian Hossa), and he didn't even have a good playoff.

B: Chance. I should just have this written out for every post, but the playoffs are a huge crapshoot. Chance combined with the survivorship bias mentioned above could be the largest reasons why Canadian players are doing better relative to European players.

C: Fewer Power Plays. I don't have any evidence to support this right now, but I suspect that European players play more and do better on the power play than their Canadian counterparts. I also suspect that there are fewer power plays and better penalty-killing units in the playoffs than in the regular season. This took long enough to investigate - perhaps I will look at this in a later post.

D: European players refuse to go to the corner or in front of the net and only care about Olympic Gold. Well, we all knew this one already, didn't we? Anyway, thanks for reading - next up from me: Devils vs. Flyers playoff results from 1995-2011, Martin Brodeur vs. The Cast of Thousands - Has Brodeur really been the difference?


  1. I know it seems obvious, and I know why you didn't mention it, but... 0.687 p/g in the playoffs v. 0.667 p/g in the playoffs isn't enough proof that Europeans don't disappear in the playoffs?

    :) Good work.

  2. I wonder what test you'd need to run to determine statistical significance? Especially in the last three years, and on aggregate, it seems highly unlikely to me that there's a significant difference between the Europeans and Canadians (and Americans?). At least then you'd be able to better quantify how much is chance (I'd bet most of it).

    Not that the average mouth-breather who talks about "pussy Euros" is going to know what "p > 0.05" means, anyway, but... ;)