Photo Credit: Christoper Hanewinckel - USA TODAY Sports

Does size matter in the playoffs?

Are the days of the big, bad teams that are bullying and bruising their way through the Stanley Cup Playoffs a thing of the past?

With the post-season already in its second round, there have been many discussions surrounding what’s been the driving force in getting the final eight teams to where they are. As one might expect, it’s one of hockey’s most timeless narratives that has bubbled to the surface, with many suggesting that big, physical and strong teams rise to the top in the second season.

The playoffs are a different animal, and to find success there, one must have a gritty, tough team, or so they say.

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Obviously here in Vancouver, it’s a topic of discussion because of the big bad Bruins physically defeating the Canucks en route to a Stanley Cup.

With that, I wanted to see how the playoff teams stacked up against each other and who held the size advantages. Was there a trend among teams that advanced?

All the data used below is from Natural Stat Trick and includes any skater that dressed in at least one playoff game. (I’ve included average age as well)

AVG AGE AVG Height (in) AVG Weight (lbs)
ANA 28.55 73.45 201.45
BOS 27.76 73.05 200.62
CBJ 25.74 72.89 200.63
COL 25.05 72.37 199.74
LAK 27.90 73.33 205.00
MIN 27.48 72.95 199.33
NJD 26.82 72.82 199.23
NSH 27.40 72.70 201.30
PHI 26.24 72.71 195.52
PIT 26.95 72.75 198.30
SJS 27.78 73.17 202.78
TB 27.42 72.16 195.42
TOR 27.40 72.85 201.10
VGK 26.79 73.05 199.74
WIN 26.14 74.05 202.90
WSH 27.30 73.45 206.35

In the Pacific division, the perception is that Anaheim and Los Angeles are big bruising teams that use their size to defeat their opponent.

Height Weight
LAK 73.33 205.00
VGK 73.05 199.74
———– ———– ———–
ANA 73.45 201.45
SJS 73.17 202.78

When looking at those series, the southern California teams had the advantage in three of the circumstances. Los Angeles and Anaheim combined for zero wins and scored just eight goals. San Jose had eight goals in their Game 3 against Anaheim alone.

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In round two, Vegas is smaller in height and weight when compared to San Jose. They looked okay on Thursday night.

Over in the Central Division, the bigger teams prevailed:

Height Weight
NSH 72.70 201.30
COL 72.37 199.74
———– ———– ———–
WIN 74.05 202.90
MIN 72.95 199.33

It’s fair to say that Winnipeg is known as a rugged, physical team but their lineup is also replete with skill from top to bottom. The players that are really boosting their size are Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien, and Blake Wheeler (just to name a few).

Nashville being the larger team of the first round matchup isn’t surprising, as Colorado isn’t a huge team. But now Nashville gives up the size advantage to Winnipeg in both categories.

In the Eastern Conference, it was a mixed bag.

Height Weight
TB 72.16 195.42
NJD 72.82 199.23
———- ———– ———–
BOS 73.05 200.62
TOR 72.85 201.10

New Jersey had the height and weight advantages and got run out of the playoffs quickly by the Lightning. Tampa Bay is the smallest team to qualify for the playoffs in both categories.

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Toronto surprisingly had the weight advantage on the Bruins with the team from Beantown having a slight edge in the height category. Really, the series came down to the final 20 minutes of Game 7 with the taller team beating the heavier team.

Lastly, in the Metropolitan division, the Caps and Pens meet in the second round for the third straight year. There was a little more of a concrete trend in those first-round matchups:

Height Weight
CBJ 72.89 200.63
WSH 73.45 206.35
———– ———– ———–
PHI 72.71 195.52
PIT 72.75 198.30

I was a little surprised to see Washington as the heaviest team to make the playoffs, but once I compiled all the data, it became clear that their bottom six players all have some physicality and size to them.

The battle of Pennsylvania also provided a bit of a surprise at first glance. Philadelphia has the long-held perception as the big, bad Flyers who will run you out of the building. To some degree, they do still play that way with a few of their players are not afraid to take the body. The Penguins had the size advantage in both categories, but it is important to add that Pittsburgh was ranked 14th in average weight and Philadelphia was 15th. So, any matchup other than Tampa Bay would’ve meant that they were giving up the advantage.

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With that, here are the 16 playoff teams in order of average weight. Highlighted in yellow are the teams that advanced:

Now sorted by weight:

So, what’s the take away here?

Let’s say that Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Vegas, and Nashville all advance to the second round — that would mean the 16th, 14th, 11th and 6th tallest teams to make the playoffs are the final four teams. Looking at their heights, that would mean 16th, 14th, 12th, and 6th tallest teams that made the playoffs have made it to the Semi-Finals.

On the other side, if Boston, San Jose, Washington, and Winnipeg make the Conference finals, we have the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 9th heaviest teams there and the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 7th tallest teams.

Basically, the outcome of a couple of series can change the narrative and however it fits into peoples mindsets.

Perception can be a funny thing. Winnipeg is one of the larger teams, but it’s fair to suggest they aren’t some plodding group of bruisers who will use those size advantages to punish their opponents; they are an extremely skilled bunch. One could say the same about Nashville.

What really stands out to me when watching these playoffs is the pace. All these teams can skate quickly, move the puck fast, and turn the play the other way.

So, if the thought is that teams need to be playing big boy hockey to be successful in the playoffs, perhaps it’s time to realize that to some degree size doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that you should ignore it and have a bunch of 5-foot-6 players running up and down the ice, but it does shed light into the fact that sometimes the matchup will play a bigger role as we clearly saw with the Southern California teams.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs takes a wide range of things to make it all the way to the finals which include depth, skill and some luck. It isn’t merely about grit or size. The perception of what teams need will change based on whoever takes home the big prize this year, but I think focusing on speed and skill is the worthwhile path to follow.

  • I’d be curious to see Boston and Winnipeg’s height/weight numbers if you removed their single extreme outlier players from the average. I’m sure Chara and Byfuglien tilt the scales pretty significantly on their own.

  • Locust

    Size doesn’t matter? Um, ya, it does. So does toughness. So does grit. So does determination and heart.

    Without any of those you will never win at any level of professional hockey.

    Why am I not surprised CA doesn’t get that…..

    • Dirk22

      So Locust is presented with an elementary school level explanation with pictures (tables) about why size may not be the determining factor in which teams are successful in the playoffs and he comes up with this.

      The author clearly says you can’t ignore size and have a bunch of shrimps running around but simply that size alone is not what determines the success of playoff teams and that we should be wary of narrative should a ‘big’ team win. Chicago wasn’t known for being a ‘big’ team nor Pittsburgh. Boston wins and all of a sudden that’s the model to go by. Thinking like that gets you Jake Virtanen drafted at #6.

      Kindergarten terms for you: Size good but not if there is no skill and speed.

    • Good reading comprehension there.

      “So, if the thought is that teams need to be playing big boy hockey to be successful in the playoffs, perhaps it’s time to realize that to some degree size doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that you should ignore it and have a bunch of 5-foot-6 players running up and down the ice, but it does shed light into the fact that sometimes the matchup will play a bigger role as we clearly saw with the Southern California teams.”

      Ryan is *not* saying size doesn’t matter, he’s saying that size is only one factor that matters among many, and it is rarely the determining factor. That’s not the same thing.

      • Tedchinook

        Wow, if that’s a summary of the article then I’m glad I just skimmed it. It’s obvious that size isn’t the only determinant or teams would be icing football sized players only.

      • TD

        What the article doesn’t cover off with LA and Anaheim is that those teams are getting older. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler don’t skate the same way they used to. LA won two cups with younger versions of that team.

      • Green Bastard

        @LASKID, you don’t think your boi Pete would go there do you? Not that they’d have any money to spend to talk to John, or that he’d want to be associated with Pete and the oil

        • LAKID

          You Bastard! Every player in the NHL wants to play with Connor and not against him. Do you think Taveres would play with a team that is doomed for 10-20 years headed by Linden and Burke? I think not . This might be the Chia plan along, Taveres and Mcdavid and would that not be a good team to watch when they visit the nucklers.

          • Green Bastard

            LASKID. Yes, everyone does wanna play with Connor, and just wait till he asks to be traded. It will be a stampede to join him. And Tavares as an edmonton Impotent? How much do you think the cap is going up any way? MacDavid, Leon, Looch, Russell… you saying “Chia” and “plan” in the same sentence is laff-able. 10-20 years of more doom is the oil model, it’s the natural order of things. You know that.

    • Dirk22

      Benning has said repeatedly he wants “speed and skill.” Hughes is the best skater in the draft. Bouchard has many strengths but speed is not one of them.

      Petterson wasn’t even 160 lbs when they took him last year and everyone seems ok with that.

    • truthseeker

      The reason I want Bouchard is his skill.

      1.3 points per game vs Hughes’ 0.78 points per game. The size is just a bonus.

      I would worry slightly more about size on a D man compared to a forward. Plus the fact Hughes played NCAA which I think most would consider a lower caliber than the OHL. Hughes may have speed and he may be the better puck handler but the fact is Bouchard gets on the score board way more as demonstrated by the numbers. In a huge way.

      Having said that….the scouting report, at elite prospects, on both of them sound good..

      Honestly I’d be happy with either of them or any of the other top D men if that’s the way Benning decides to go.

      • Dirk22

        Young players will have lower point totals in NCAA average age is higher than OHL. Middlestadt is a good example. He’s only a ppg in NCAA and that would be considered pretty ordinary in the OHL yet he’s touted as one of the top prospect in the world.

        • truthseeker

          Right. Which is why I think they should be more dominant in order to be considered “top picks”. Their league is easier, their age is higher etc. For example Eichel had 71 points in 40 games in his year of college. That’s impressive. And that’s what a top 5 or 10 pick should do in the NCAA. Dominate it. I get “potential” but the true great players show their potential in the games they play. If Tkachuk is so great he should have dominated the NCAA. .78 points per game for Hughes is very respectable, but to me that’s all it is. No where near how Bouchard’s numbers come across.

          You know who had a lot of speed and puck handling ability? Mason Raymond. Looks great flying up the ice but where’s the finish?

          Now I’m not saying Hughes is Raymond, but just because a guy is fast and handles the puck well doesn’t necessarily mean he can finish.

          For me the unknown of prospects is already so great, I’d rather just let the point production decide if the players are this close to each other in terms of scouting reports.

          Besides, speed can be taught. Just look at Bo. Hire Bouchard a skating coach.

          As I said though….I’m not opposed to Hughes if the Canucks think he’s superior.

  • Smyl and Snepsts

    I would like to see where the size is distributed. I think the smaller speedy skilled forwards can be ok but i dont see any of the better teams with a small defenseman in their top pairings. They cant deal with the bigger forwards batyling in front of the net. For reference see poor Stetcher get swatted out of the way by Getzlaf and others. No Hughes with a first round pick.

    • North Van Halen

      you’re right. if the planets align and we can draft 2 or the 5 best centres in the league in consecutive drafts, height and weight may not be important.

  • Fred-65

    Frankly the question should be is big and skilled be better than small and skilled. A small skilled player is great but a big skilled player is better IMO. You can’t simply isolate size or lack of with success

    • Dirk22

      Completely agree – all other things being equal you go with the bigger guy. Problem is the dumb dumbs who do “isolate size or lack of with success” – Watch Winnipeg win and the ‘heavy hockey’ narratives will be out in full force.

  • TD

    As has been stated, skill and speed is more important than size alone. The other thing is that the playoffs are a grind. Will a bigger rougher team be in better shape in the cup final than a smaller team. Some great hitters have also been smaller players, Jordan TooToo, Scott Walker and Wendel Clark to name a few.

    I think a healthy Canucks team may have beat Boston in 2011, but that team was badly beaten up by the time the final arrived. Winning the fourth round is the important time, not the second round. The average of the playoff teams was around 6’1″ and just under 200 lbs. I looked at the Canucks, they were either just over or just under 6’1″ depending on whether you included the two 6’6″ goalies and were just under 200 lbs regardless of including the goalies.

    I do think size may be less relevant than style of play. Going back to 2011, Chicago in the first round, Nashville in the second round and Boston in the final took runs at the Canucks, but also got away with all kinds of cross checks to the kidneys etc after the whistle. I remember Weber and Suter cross checking the Sedins after every whistle. The Sedins struggled against those teams while they feasted on SJ in the third round, who did not play that way. Kesler was great in the first couple rounds, but was injured and weaker for the final two rounds. The Canucks had few players who took liberties on the opposition.

    • truthseeker

      To me there is no doubt at all. The Malhotra loss was a tough one. Really changed how the team employed it’s strategy on face offs and I think that hurt them in the playoffs.

      The second thing was not taking out the Hawks in 4 like the should have. It was only psychology that caused that series to go 7 games (and you gotta give the hawks credit for being in the heads of the canucks like that), but that hawk team was not very good that season. I think Henrik was absolutely right when he said “they’ve got no business being in this series” or something like that.

      And of course probably the single most important factor: The loss of Hamhuis. It was a beautiful hip check but I truly believe that hip check cost the canucks the cup more than any other factor.

      And yeah…the nagging injuries to Kes, Edler etc…played a role, but Boston could easily say the same I’m sure.

  • KCasey

    This topic is seriously to dumb to try and argue for real. In a nut shell it sounds like your saying; ‘size and physicallity matter a bit until a team scores a few more goals than you and wins after which it doesnt matter as much’. The same thing could be said in the form of; ‘its better that your player have both his eyes unless he has learned to play well with only one eye in which case it doesnt matter as much’. Like no shiz, thanks tips. Good teams win hockey games and make the playoffs. That includes ‘big’ teams (LA, Aneheim) and ‘small’ teams (Tampa, Colorado) and than everyone else inbetween. Your either good or your not. Some things are really that simple. Now add to that the miniscule difference between some of these teams and it becomes laughable. Unless your team has 3 Charas and 4 Tyler Myers you cant really say you have a definitive advantage to anyone. Having 5 guys all only be 1 or 2 inches taller than five of there guys be the deciding factor of who is better set up for success is disturbing. Big players bust out just the same as small players as well as the vanilla height guys in the basic 6 foot range. Once again….your either good or not. You either know how to sniff around the offensive zone and defend or you flounder and disappear.