Nate Silver Tackles The Canadian Stanley Cup Drought

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In nine days, we will celebrate(?) the 20th anniversary of Montreal's '93 championship, the last time a Canadian team hoisted the Stanley Cup. Today in the Times, Nate Silver takes a stab at the most jingoistically painful futility in professional sports.

There is, of course, no single "correct" answer. But Silver offers four hypotheses, each likely true to some extent, but insufficient on its own:

  • 1. Bad luck. Silver calculates the chances of each Canadian team winning a Cup in each postseason, using his own formula based on each team's playoff seed, goal differential, and strength of schedule. In any given year, the odds were better that an American team would win. But taken together, Silver says the chance that at least one Canadian team would have raised a banner by now was 97.5 percent.
  • 2. Bad timing. The Canadian dollar was at its weakest while NHL spending was relatively unrestrained, leading the American teams to profit more, and spend more on their rosters. But right around the 2004-05 lockout, the Canadian dollar strengthened—just in time for the introduction of a hard salary cap.
  • 3. Good fans. Hockey's simply too popular in Canada, and most Canadian teams will sell tickets, merchandise, and pull in TV ratings no matter their record. This removes the incentive for front offices to spend to put a good team on the ice.
  • 4. The Sun Belt. Breaking things down the size of fanbases, nontraditional hockey markets in the U.S. are over-represented with the number of franchises, while Canada is under-represented. Go back in time and replace, say, Florida, Nashville, and Phoenix with Quebec City, Hamilton, and a second Toronto team, and it's much more likely a Canadian team would have won a Cup by now.

Silver runs the numbers on just about everything, and taken together, his analyses are intriguing, maybe just shy of convincing. Still, more authoritative and reflective than microarguments like: the '94 Canucks penalty kill wasn't great; Nikolai Khabibulin was lights-out in '04; the '11 Canucks pooped the bed; the Maple Leafs are the Maple Leafs.

Why Can't Canada Win the Stanley Cup? [NY Times]