The Dallas Stars coasted into their bye week Saturday afternoon, cruising past the hapless Edmonton Oilers, 5-1. As the players, coaches and staff scatter to the four winds for a few days, Stars fans can bask in the warm afterglow of a 4-1-0 homestand and ponder one existential question: Is this a playoff team?
While the Stars have been playing quite well of late, a five- (or even 10) game sample of an 82-game schedule isn’t enough to answer that question. Even a glance at the standings doesn’t help, as the boys in Victory Green sit squarely in the middle of the Central Division wolfpack and will likely lose ground while they’re on break. Where, then, can the answer be found?
At the beginning of the season, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock mentioned one numerical target for his team: 105, later changed to 110. That number, penalty kill percentage plus power play percentage, was Hitch’s goal for the Stars’ special teams. Though a worthy goal and one which helps win games, there’s little-to-no correlation between awesome special teams and postseason qualification.
Recently, the Stars bench boss discussed offensive zone time as an indicator of success, saying, “the team that wins that battle wins 90 percent of the time.” While illuminating from a wins-and-losses standpoint, the zone time stats Hitch uses are a closely-guarded secret at this time, so their relationship to playoff qualification is unknown.
At this stage in the evolution of hockey analytics, no ‘magic bullet’ – a single statistic which can accurately determine, like a puck-obsessed Punxsutawney Phil, an early summer or six more weeks of hockey – seems to exist. Put two numbers together, however, and PRESTO! Secrets are revealed.
100 and 50: The Stars’ Magic Numbers
The Stars (and the rest of the NHL, for that matter) have two magic numbers, 100 and 50. The former refers to five-on-five PDO; the latter, five-on-five Corsi For percentage.
PDO is team shooting percentage plus save percentage. A number above 100 often indicates either a red-hot goalie or a team shooting lights-out (or both), while below 100 indicates the opposite. As such, it’s often described as a measure of ‘puck luck.’ I’ve used that term myself. I realize now that it’s much more, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
Corsi For (CF) is the percentage of all shot attempts in a game. A number over 50 means the team consistently generates more shots on goal, missed and blocked shots than their opponents. In the absence of accurate offensive zone time stats, CF approximates puck possession.
Here’s where things get really interesting: Over the last three campaigns, 27 teams finished the regular season with a PDO of 100 or greater and CF of 50 or greater. Twenty-five of those clubs, or 92.6 percent, made the playoffs.
Hitting both numbers is key. Over the same span, just 55 percent of teams with PDO 100-plus but CF below 50 qualified for the postseason. Clubs with sub-100 PDO fared even worse, regardless of Corsi: 41.7 percent of teams with CF over 50 made the playoffs, while only two of 19 members (10.5 percent) of the sub-100/sub-50 club did so.
The combination of regular season PDO and CF also bodes well for playoff success, as 10 of the last 14 teams in the Stanley Cup Final were in the 100/50 club.
At the 40-game mark, the Stars were at 100.23 and 52.61, respectively. This is the first time they’ve been in the 100/50 club since game 50 of the 2015-16 season. This is a level they’ve been building up to since October. This is not a fluke.
How do we know these Stars are the real deal? Because of Ken Hitchcock, that’s why. While 100/50 was an elusive target for the Stars over the last several years, the Hitch-coached St. Louis Blues hit those numbers in five of six seasons and posted a near-miss PDO of 99.58 in the only season they fell short. Consistently hitting the 100/50 mark year after year is a product of the coach’s system, not ‘puck luck.’
Back in October, the Stars peppered opposing goalies but struggled to find the back of the net. At the same time, the team allowed several unusual goals in a short time span. These events were reflected in a high CF and abnormally-low PDO. Since game 10, PDO has steadily increased while CF has dropped only slightly. The numbers back up the ‘eye test,’ which shows the Stars are adapting well to Hitchcock’s system, becoming more defensively responsible and finishing more scoring chances.
Still, for all that, the Stars are killing it in high-danger shots and saves. Fix special teams (again) and I think you've got a playoff team, easily. https://t.co/rbec2d3Gz3
— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) December 28, 2017
With very few exceptions, members of the 100/50 club make the playoffs. The Stars joined that club at game 40. Will they still be there in April? Considering Hitch’s history and the overall skill level of this team, I’d bet on it.