Saturday, March 6, 2010

the mathematics of winning

congrats on a big flames win last night, but i don't really want to get too excited about it until we see a bigger trending towards the type of gameplay from the last two periods... i'm also not superkeen to discuss the latest flames trades, the sad cap situation for next year, and/or my thoughts on sutter(s). i'm gonna go with a subject that was deliberated at length with both mikeH and my buddy dan whilst in vancouver; one that i'm totally and completely underqualified to analyze (cause i'm not so strong at maths):

which is "harder" to win: the stanley cup or an olympic gold.

i've deduced that the evaluation is two-pronged (this, btw, is NOT a play on words describing the horrible nightmare i had the other night where i was blissfully. married. to. chris. pronger.... *shudder*):

1. making it onto an NHL team vs. making it onto an olympic squad
2. the number of wins needed to win one championship over the other.

let's begin, shall we ?

1.A) number of players
without talking about the makeup of teams or player types (see B), in a pure mathematical way there are 30 teams in the NHL, each generally carrying 20 players, and thus there are 600 NHLers (give or take) during any given year. as for the olympics, there are 12 teams with 22 players (=264) but since it only comes along every 4 years, that number should technically be divided by four (66). 600:66 basically says it's ten times more likely for a player to make an NHL team vs. an olympic team.... right ? ;)

1.B) calibre of player / player types
in (A), i don't take into account that there are 60 goalies in the NHL and 24 (÷4) in the olympics, or that there are 180 defensemen in the NHL and 84 (÷4) in the olympics.... so from a basic numerical perspective, which position a person plays factors into the odds.... beyond sheer numbers, there are also probably more than a dozen "pure goons" like bryan mcgrattan in the NHL, who would NEVER exist in an international tournament like the olympics.... like stevie Y said in pre-2010 team selection interviews (and i'm paraphrasing here), "we're not looking for strong checkers, we're looking for strong players who can check." clearly, only the upper echelon of NHL players (be them goalscorers, playmakers, defenders etc) will ever be named to an olympic squad.

1.C) NHL v. european leagues
while 100% of the gold and silver medal teams at the 2010 olympics were made up of NHL players, many of the other countries populated their mens' teams with european league players. the emergence of the KHL as a legitimate hockey league, and with the swedish/finnish elite leagues producing young high-end athletes, means that not all players who lace up for their countries will ever step foot in the NHL. a good example of this is norweigian captain tommy jakobsen, who played in the swedish, norweigian, deutsche, and austrian leagues in addition to nearly two decades of international games, but not a split second of NHL play... admittedly, this is the exception to the rule as the majority of elite players (ie: those who would be candidates for national squads, and certainly their captaincies) will stream to the unparalleled top north american league.

1.D) country population / olympic recognition
i like to call this the "anze kopitar" sub-heading because, while there is absolutely no doubt that he would be listed within the NHL's elite players (and would be named to any country's international squad), he is slovenian. slovenia has a total population of about 2million, of which only 0.05% (980) are registered with their ice hockey federation, and their national team is ranked 17th by the IIHF.... so while the player, himself, has undeniably beat the odds into elite-hood, and would most definitely be an olympian on any of the 12 teams in the tournament, the calibre of his nation's hockey team will (most likely) prevent him from ever attending. on the same subject, but on a different tack, canada has an enormous pool of potential players and the mathematical probability of making EITHER the nhl OR the olympic team is MINISCULE, but definitely not IMPOSSIBLE (as is kopitar's current case).

2.A) 4 stanley cups for every gold
as difficult as it is to play 82 regular season games + AT LEAST 16 postseason matches to win a cup, every year the slate is cleaned and players get to try for it again. with the olympics coming along only every fourth year, and with players getting injured, older, and their roster spots usurped by up-and-comers, i would suggest that most elite-level NHL players would be active for two or three olympics (5-12 year careers/stanley cup opportunities), and in the peak of their play for only one or two of those.

2.B) regular season v. round robin
this section is a joke because, let's face it: in the nhl you have a 16/30 chance of making the playoffs and in the olympics' current format, you have a 12/12 chance of getting out of the round robin. sure, 4 teams in the olympic tournament don't have to play a qualification playoff game (QP), but realistically you can tank in the round robin and still win four in a row and gold medal. post-lockout NHL parity makes it increasingly more difficult to get INTO the post-season, so that 53% chance of playing the "second season" seems less than that.... also, and i'm not smart enough to elaborate on this, the three-point-game system has truly effed up the .500 system (since somehow now teams with losing records can still find themselves sitting above .500).

2.C) 16 of 28 wins v. 4 winning straight
to win a stanley cup, a team must win 16 games out of 28 (4 x best-of-seven series). to win an olympic gold, a team must win 4 games straight (QP, QuarterFinal, SemiFinal, Final). in truth, depending on the pool, if a team wins two in the round robin, they could still feasibly lose the third game (in shootout?) and get a bye into the QF. ie: technically, a team in the olympics only has to win 3 games in a row (*ahem, the last three), or 5 of 7 total. physically, a seven game tournament is FAR easier on the body than a potential 28 game playoff run. conversely, there is a lot of emotional duress involved with single-game eliminations....

i bet you were expecting me to have a decision here, at the end, where i suggest it's harder to win one over the other. if pressed, i would say that it would be mathematically more difficult to win olympic gold (certainly more difficult to make an olympic TEAM), but to be honest i think you only have to be HOT to win that medal. even mediocre teams, made up of average players, can feasibly be streaky for four games, but it takes a very solid, dependable, and deep squad to crack the top 16 and endure the two months of NHL playoffs.....

anyhow. that was fun. please throw your comments in if you're so inclined....

[sutter(s) dismissal countdown: day 3]


Sarah said...

I had this discussion last Sunday with my brother and my cousin, as we stood in line for hours to get into a bar in downtown Vancouver. We basically came to this consensus: it's harder to make an Olympic team, but if you're from one of the top five or six hockey countries, winning an Olympic tournament is way easier than winning a Stanley Cup. If you're not, ala Kopitar in your example or, maybe even Hossa (although the Slovaks are certainly improving every year), then a Cup is easier for you.

Which is to say, your country is your country, unless you jump ship, and that determines whether or not you'll get a shot at that Olympic gold. The composition of NHL teams, and their competition, changes so much from season to season that there're more opportunities, even ignoring the fact that the Cup is awarded every year and the Olympics only once ever four.

Kelly Mamer said...

Interesting discussion. I was also thinking the same thing when it was pointed out (again) that Scott Niedermeyer is the only player that has one a Memorial Cup, World Junior, World Cup, World Championship, Stanley Cup and Olympics. Of course, what is interesting is that Iggy has won 5 of those 6 himself - all he's missing is the Stanley Cup. And I think, if you're a top notch player you actually have a better chance at winning the Olympics than the Cup. Iginla is guaranteed to be surrounded by top talent if he's on an Olympic team (and is from one of the top countries to boot) but he's rarely (if ever) been surrounded by the talent necessary to win the Cup.

On a separate note, it's unlikely anyone else will match Niedermeyer because the World Cup (aka Canada Cup) is unlikely to be held anytime soon, especially if NHLers are in the Olympics. But, Corey Perry (that sum-bitch) already has the World Junior, Memorial Cup, Stanley Cup and Olympics (don't think he's won a World Championship).

Anyone else that close?


walkinvisible said...

you got me.
i know that eric staal was the only player to gain entry to the triple gold club after the olympics, but he never won (never played ?) a WJC, a memorial cup and certainly never a world cup.

yet another reason that jarome will never win an nhl championship... ;)

walkinvisible said...

btw: i agree with you both when you say that it's easier for an ELITE player to win a gold, but obviously the elite players don't come along every day.

mikeH said...

Its a good discussion, I guess part of it depends on when you want to start the probability tree. If we're talking about kids entering hockey at 10 years old, then I'd say its more likely that they'll win a cup, even if they are lucky enough to be accidentally born in a country that has a fighting chance at gold.

For someone who has established themselves as an elite player, a 3 game round robin and 4 game playdown against European league players sounds like a better option than the full NHL season and stanley cup run. You'd still have to make an expert selection on the country of your birth.

Part of the math that we're missing here is that for 50-some-odd percent of society, it is much more likely that they will win a gold medal, since aside from the Sedins, girls don't really get the chance to play in the NHL.