Re-examining Fenwick and Playoff Success

Pavel Datsyuk

Pavel Datsyuk and the best Fenwick team in recent history lifted the Cup in 2008

Image from Dan4th Nicholas via Wikimedia Commons

Back in April of 2013, Chris Boyle presented his study of the relationship between a team’s Fenwick percentage in close-score situations and their eventual success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then, there’s been two Stanley Cup playoffs played. Also the previous 2007-08 start point for shot attempt data was extended two years backwards thanks to War on Ice. All told, it’s an another four seasons of data added to the five Boyle examined.

Worth another look, in my opinion.

The distribution of all teams’ fenwick percentage is (of course) still heavily centered around 50%, with 58% of all teams falling between 47.5% and 52.4%.


52.2% of all teams were above 50% over the nine year span, as teams more approach the 45% mark more frequently than 55%.

Let’s take a look at each group.


Of the four teams getting 57.5% or more of all unblocked shot attempts in close situations in the  regular season, all four have made at least the third round with two of them lifting the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings from 2006-07 to 2008-09 make up three of those teams, including the high-mark of the entire sample, the 59.6 FF% Cup Winning 2007-08 squad. No team has been in this exclusive club since the 2009-10 Hawks.


Of the twelve teams that have exceeded 55.0% without hitting 57.5%, half have made it to at least the second round of the playoffs. Only two of the group– the 2013-14 Devils (55.1%) and the 2006-07 Leafs (55.0%)– have missed the playoffs. The 2012-13 Blackhawks (56.1%) and the 2013-14 Kings (56.7%) are the two Cup winners in the group.


In the next 2.5% sliver, as many teams have won the Cup as have missed the playoffs in the thirty-eight team sample.

Cumulatively, of the fifty-four teams above 52.5%, more have won the Stanley Cup (6) than have missed the playoffs (4). One third of the group have made at least the Conference Finals.


Of the eighty-seven teams between 50.0% and 52.4%, 64% have made the playoffs. There are three Cup winners in the group. The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins are the lowest FF% team to win the Cup in this time span at 50.1%.


I think it’s interesting to look at the difference between this sample and the last. Teams exceeding 50% by 2.5% or less make the playoffs 64% of the time. Teams just below 50% make the playoffs only 37% of the time.


Only one in four teams in the 45.0% to 47.4% range make the playoffs. The 46.3% 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins made the Cup Finals, the only sub 50.0% team to do so in nine seasons.


The 2012-13 Leafs (43.8%) were the only sub-45.0% team to make the playoffs since the 2005 lockout, and that was in a lockout shortened season.


Only three teams in nine years have fallen below 42.5%, two of them last season in Buffalo and Toronto. Buffalo’s 40.9% last season is the low mark of any of the 270 teams.

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of some subsections of the population.

Stanley Cup Winners:

ffscwThe Stanley Cup winning median FF% is 54.0, a mark that one-ninth of the population achieved over a full season. The arithmetic average FF% is 54.4.

Teams making the Cup Finals with FF% below 52.5

fffinalsSeven teams in nine years have made the Stanley Cup Finals despite not being more than 2.5% above average in FF% (20% of the population lies above 52.5%). fffinals2The seven teams averaged to a 100 point, 4.5 seed in the regular season. In Special Teams percentage (denoted ST%; equal to PP% + PK%), the teams averaged 101.9 in the regular season and jumped to 102.5 in the playoffs. Outside of the 2010-11 Bruins (11.4 PP%) and the 2011-12 Devils (73.2 PK%), each team improved on their regular season special teams. Only one team had a 5-on-5 shooting percentage less than 10% in their playoff runs, and having a hot goalie certainly didn’t hurt either.

Teams Making the Playoffs with FF% below 47.5

fflowOf the 144 playoff teams over the past nine seasons, 12 have had regular season FF% less than 47.5.

fflow2The first thing that jumps out at me is that 10 of the 12 teams had above average special teams with the entire sample averaging 103.1% special teams effectiveness. The Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs in three straight seasons with a sub 47.5 FF%. For anyone who watched them, there’s little wonder why. The Andrei Markov-Mark Streit led powerplay clicked at 24.1%, 19.2% and 21.8% in those three seasons. The reason for two teams making the playoffs isn’t immediately clear. The 2006-07 Islanders and the 2009-10 Avalanche posted below average special teams and 5-on-5 PDOs of around 1.000. Timing was certainly a factor for both teams, as the Islanders’ 92 points and the Avalanche’s 95 points are good enough to make the playoffs about half the time in their respective conferences.

Teams Missing the Playoffs with FF% over 52.5%

ffmissOver nine seasons only four teams above 52.5% have missed the playoffs. It’s funny to see the Leafs on both extremes of the spectrum. It’s no wonder many with loud voices in Toronto have been slow to accept the power of possession.


Poor goaltending can undermine strong possession, and that theme is a constant through these four teams. In retrospect, Andrew Raycroft probably wasn’t worth giving up Tuukka Rask as he couldn’t stop the Leafs from finishing in the bottom-third of the league in SV%. The Devils have seen two strong possession teams miss the playoffs recently due in part to team SV% in the bottom half of the league as they make the awkward transition away from their faded former star goalie. Even a very strong special teams squad in 2013-14 was undermined by the sixth worst 5-on-5 close SV% in the league. Going 0-13 in the shootout certainly didn’t help either.

There’s more than one way to build a successful playoff team. Building a team capable of possessing the puck at full-strength seems to be the most common one, however.

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