Comparing Playoff (non) Successes

What the hell are you cheering about? The Canucks stink in the playoffs!
… … … Or DO they?! (*Hint – yes, they do.)
(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks are a few days away from starting only their third Conference Final series in their 40 year history. While this is getting a lot of chuckles from around the league, keep in mind that the Canucks are not alone in their limited amount of playoff successes. Yet for some reason, the Canucks and their fans seem to be a lightning rod for playoff criticism.

Canucks fans, don’t worry. We are not alone. We are definitely not alone.

Anecdotally, I knew that there were several teams that have failed miserably in the playoffs throughout their history. And, being the sensitive, snivelling, excuse-making Canucks fan that I am, I wanted to prove that the Canucks were not the worst team ever in the history of hockey and playoffs and ice and sticks because there had to be at least one worse team in the NHL when it comes to playoff success.

So I chose five teams to analyse, including the Canucks. I picked teams that have been around since the Canucks inaugural season, so that we weren’t lumping in the likes of Winnipeg/Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus or even Washington. I looked at Vancouver, Buffalo (the Canucks’ expansion cousins), Los Angeles (the Canucks long-time divisional partner), St. Louis, and Toronto. Yes, I picked 4 other teams that also haven’t won a Stanley Cup since at least 1970-71. There’s the first proof point that the Canucks aren’t the only team in the last 40 years who hasn’t won it all.

Also, I’m not looking at "choke" factor. I’m only looking at the objective numbers of how these teams fared in the playoffs over the years. I don’t care how they ranked, or how well they did in the regular season. I’m only looking at how these 5 teams have done historically in the playoffs since 1970-71.

Ok, so there’s the background. Here’s what I found.

CHART 1: This chart plots the five teams and their progression through the playoffs since 1970. The numbers on the left represent the round to which the team progressed. 0 represents a "Did Not Qualify", while 5 represents winning the Stanley Cup.

CHART 2: This chart shows the number of times each team has reached a particular playoff milestone. For example, LA, Buffalo and St. Louis all made it to the 1st Round (and no further) 14 times.

Some interesting points on these…

  1. Getting to the Stanley Cup final in the last 40 years has definitely been rarified air amongst these five teams. It’s only happened five times – Vancouver (2), Buffalo (2), Los Angeles (1).
  2. For as many times as the Canucks haven’t made the playoffs (17), the Kings have missed the playoffs more often (18).
  3. The Canucks have now only made it past the 2nd round 3 times. However, the same is true for St. Louis. And the Kings have only made it past the 2nd round once.
  4. Neither St. Louis nor Toronto have even made it to the Stanley Cup final in the last 40 years.
  5. Buffalo has had the most playoff success of all the five teams, yet both Vancouver and Buffalo have only made the Stanley Cup Final twice – the most amongst the five teams.
  6. For 15 out of 40 years, the Blues were knocked out in the second round. For 14 out of 40 years, they were knocked out in the first round. So 29 times out of 40 (almost 3/4 of the time), the Blues were in the playoffs but couldn’t get out of the second round.

After looking at the numbers, I wanted to put something quantitative behind these five teams’ successes or failures. So I scored each team based on their total playoff history. 0 points for a DNQ, 1 point for a 1st round knockout all the way to 5 points for a Stanley Cup championship. Here’s the ranking:

  1. St. Louis (53)
  2. Buffalo (52)
  3. Toronto (46)
  4. Vancouver (40)
  5. Los Angeles (34)

Then I gave each further round some extra weight: 1 point for round 1, 3 points for round 2, 7 points for Conference Final, 10 points for Stanley Cup final, 20 points for a Championship. Here are the weighted rankings:

  1. Buffalo (81)
  2. St. Louis (74)
  3. Toronto (67)
  4. Vancouver (62)
  5. Los Angeles (48)

So giving added weight to each round shows that Buffalo has had more deep playoff success and shows that LA has done very little in the playoffs for the last 40 years. The numbers show the Canucks have been bad in the playoffs, but they’re pretty close to the Leafs and (especially using the weighted system) are way ahead of the Kings. But Buffalo takes the crown here… as the best of the bad playoff teams. Congrats Sabres.

But I looked at the numbers again. I realized that a HUGE chunk of the Canucks poor playoff standings were in the first half of their existance. So I looked at the rankings again, but only from 1991 onward, in other words, the last 20 years.So it’s not a small sample size.

Using the weighted points again, here are the rankings for the last 20 years.

  1. Vancouver (41) tie
  2. Buffalo (41) tie
  3. Toronto (32)
  4. St. Louis (31)
  5. Los Angeles (22)

These numbers prove that, at least compared to the other 4 teams listed here, the Canucks playoff failures are backloaded to the first 20 years of their existence. Los Angeles, however, is still the over loser here with only 3 playoff appearances past the first round in the last 20 years.

I am, BY NO MEANS, trying to prove that the Canucks are a successful playoff team. Not at all. With only 3 appearances in the Conference Final in 40 years, it’s impossible to defend that. However, the point was to prove that (a) there are other teams that have stunk it up in the playoffs too, and (b) the Canucks are not the worst playoff team in the last 40 years. In fact, in the last 20 years, they’ve made up some ground. Again, we all know that they’ve not been good in the playoffs. But lo and behold Canucks fans, there are others suffering as much as, if not more than, we are.

Canucks fans, let it be said that your team has been bad in the playoffs. But we ain’t the worst. So let’s all point and laugh at the Los Angeles Kings. And let’s start a chant… "We’re not the worst! We’re not the worst! We’re not the worst!"

That feels better.




I went through the list more thoroughly again. I went through the 14 teams that have played since 1990-91 that haven’t won a Stanley Cup in that time. I did also include Ottawa and San Jose even though they did join until ’92 and ’91 respectively. I did not include Minnesota, Columbus, Florida, Atlanta or Nashville since they joined the league too late.

So … using the weighted points system here are the rankings of all the non-Cup winning teams over the last 20 years:

  1. PHI
  2. BUF (t)
  3. VAN (t)
  4. SJS
  5. BOS
  6. TOR
  7. OTT (t)
  8. WSH (t)
  9. STL (t)
  10. EDM
  11. LAK
  12. CGY
  13. NYI
  14. PHX

** (t) represents a tie in points. I used the deepest playoff appearance as a tie-breaker.

So again… the point of this article was NOT to suggest that the Canucks are a good playoff team. Because THEY ARE NOT. The point of this article was to prove that they have PLENTY of company. So while fans outside of Vancouver love to bash the Canucks for being playoff failures (and rightfully so), they aren’t exactly the worst in the league.

And yes, I know… it all means nothing until the Canucks win a Cup. Believe me, I want nothing more than to cross the Canucks off the list above.

    • The Canucks are ridiculed for being poor playoff performers. And deservedly so. The point was to show that other teams have been as bad as other teams in the playoffs, and that the larger chunk of the Canucks worse playoff failures happened in the first half of their existence.

      The point was to prove that the Canucks are not alone in playoff non-success, that’s all.

      And to make fun graphs.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    There is a lot to be gained from this it tells me that success brings success and failure breeds failure. It makes me ask a question of teams whom consistently under perform in the playoffs. What is different in the Room , Behind the bench or in the stands that perpetuates failure. The more points on your above graph tells you that a team such as Vancouver seems to get there a lot compared to other non trophy teams. BUT have never got er done! What is missing? I would the Oilers when loosing to NY in 04 saw what it took in the NY dressing room. NONE of the players in the Winning room had enough energy to celebrate. They left it all on the Ice while Gretzky and the Oilers did not and hence did not taste champagne for another year. My point You have to know whom to dump because they are consistently under performing in the playoffs and whom is learning the lesson about what it takes. Knowing when to cut your losses is the hard thing. Two teams in the mix remind me of this. Vancouver Are the Twins and Luongo Able to get it done? The same Question has been asked numerous times in SanJose about Thornton. Having lived in both BC and near SanJose I know it has gotten hot for all those players when they loose in the playoffs. The same could be asked Of Ovie the Great8 in Washinton. What I find interesting is that I do not think any one would ever ask that of Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit even if he had never one a cup, Why? because he brings it! Some thing we have not seen from those other players. Of coarse the same is not true of all Vancouver players but at some point the players whom do not get er done out weigh the players who do and a team looses.

    • Excellent take, Sheldon.

      I think the Canucks are very slowly turning the tide in their favour. I think.

      The team right now is being defined by Luongo or the Sedins. They are being defined by Kesler on ice and Malhotra off the ice. Kesler, in his interviews, is DEFIANT in his thirst for winning. Malhotra seems like the ultimate character guy, rallying the team and even coaching the team when they need it.

      Funny enough – Kyle Wellwood spouts off several weeks ago, saying that he didn’t think that the Canucks had what it took to win yet. Well, he hasn’t been in that room this year. I think the new guys that Gillis has brought have made a HUGE impact. The irony is that the Canucks were up 3-0, then the Blackhawks came back to tie the series before the Canucks found the necessary will to win game 7.

      Does Wellwood and his Sharks have that same will? I look at that team and I just can’t see it.

      All that being said… the Canucks have a LOT of winning to do in the playoffs to erase 40 years of failure. But it feels like they are starting. We hope.

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        IF the top Vancouver players can get to that level it can happen. I do think they can pass SanJose But Boston will be a very tough nut to crack. Of coarse Roli could have another miracle left in him and if he does and its Van VS Bolts that would be the two farthest apart teams geographically whom have ever faced each other in playoff history in any round. That being said If Van does win the whole show It will change the teams attitude for years.

        • I think the Sedins will have a much better series finally. If Luongo and Kesler and Bieksa and Hamhuis play AS WELL as they did in Round 2, the Canucks will be in excellent shape.

          I am SO hesitant to say anything optimistic about their chances. As you can tell from this article, the Canucks have given fans VERY FEW opportunities to be optimistic. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

          It’s just so hard to REALLY believe – for reference, so charts 1 and 2 above. 🙂

          • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

            Its so different in towns with winning traditions the Fans, players etc expect there to be another championship. Winning does that and until Vancouver gets one the expectation for two will be vary far away.