Oct 2020 Update:
Well, here it is, the unusual Covid-19 hockey season is now over and Canadian teams were once more shut out of the Stanley Cup Finals, and of course did not win the cup for another years. So, that brings the losing streak to 26 years.
This was a particularly strange year, as nobody could be said to have had home advantage during the playoffs, as they were played within the “Covid bubble”. However, since all the games were played in Canada (Edmonton or Toronto), this could be thought to have been advantageous to the Canadian teams. But it didn’t seem to help, as both the Oilers and the Leafs got knocked out pretty quickly.
There are a number of ways to calculate the likelihood of this event:
· The binomial theorem now shows odds of 0.20% for this event to occur. Basically, the binomial theorem gives the answer to the question, if the probability of an event occurring is p, and you repeat the experiment N times, what is the probability of the event occurring exactly X times. In this case that would be: if the probability of an event occurring in any given experiment is .212 (the percentage of Canadian teams in the NHL over this period) and the experiment is repeated 26 times (the 26 year streak), what is the probability of there being exactly 0 Canadian teams in that span of time.
You can plug this into Excel’s BINOM.DIST function, with the following syntax (BINOM.DIST (0, 26, .212, FALSE)) and the answer is .00204. That’s two-tenths of one percent.
· Another way to calculate this is to raise .788 (the proportion of non-Canadian teams) to the 26th power, giving .00204 or 0.20%. That’s just the probability of the event Non-Canadian team Wins multiplied by itself 26 times
(.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) = .00204
The advantage of using the binomial function is its versatility; you can calculate the probability of 1 win in 26 years, 2 wins, etc.. This method is only good for the “0 wins” case, but that’s what we are primarily interested in, so that’s ok.
· The third way is to create a computer simulation, that plays a hockey schedule thousands (or even millions) of times, with the probability of a Canadian team winning the cup in any given year as .212.. I set up this simulation, as a 20000 year NHL history (unlikely but that’s the fun thing about computer simulations) and ran the simulation 100 times. That gave a value of .00199, which is pretty close to the analytic solution of 0.00204 obtained by the other two methods.
The histogram below shows that the experiment was fairly normally distributed, with the peak at or near the .002 (or 0.20%) level. There is one outlier to the far right, which is interesting, but not necessarily unexpected.
So, we have awfully long stretch of Canadian team losses occurring. It strains credulity to consider this to be merely bad luck. Some other theories have been propounded:
· It’s related to the Canadian dollar. But that doesn’t work, as the Canadian dollar has varied considerably during this time period, sometimes being lower and sometimes higher than the U.S. dollar.
· Another theory states that hockey players can’t stand the pressure of playing in the Canadian cities, where the sport is taken very seriously by the fans. Therefore, the players choke, basically. The Globe and Mail’s main sports columnist likes that one, but I am skeptical. That theory seems unlikely – after all, professional athletes have come through a grueling system of training and preparation to make it to the big leagues. They know how to handle stress.
So, the only theories remaining (that I can think of), are:
· It’s a conspiracy - the league helps the U.S. teams win (say, via referee decisions or Board of Governor actions), to help out teams in the more financially uncertain U.S. marketplaces. But, that seems like a difficult to conspiracy to actually make work, as the league simply doesn’t have that sort of control over the referees or the owners.
· Economics - Canadian teams can make as much money losing as they can winning, so they don’t manage their business affairs with winning as a significant priority. Indeed, playing rope-a-dope with Canadian fans might be an optimum strategy, keeping player payrolls relatively low, while holding out “wait until next year” hopes for the hockey-mad fans, who will show up, come what may.
Plus, this supports American teams, some of which don’t have the sort of “stick with the team through thick and thin” fans that Canadian teams have. Canadian teams need American teams to survive, in order for the NHL to reach a continental market, which of course includes that money-generating TV market. Such a strategy also increases the value of a team enormously on the theoretical hockey team market and therefore increases the wealth of the owner or owners of the Canadian team. After all, if weak market American teams fold, that devalues the franchise of every owner in the league, including the strong Canadian markets.
This is the theory that makes the most sense to me.
Perhaps the Canadian sports media will give another go at this. In recent years they have nodded towards the strange phenomenon each spring, almost as a ritual now. Their explanations are usually pretty lame, and they also reveal their weakness with statistical reasoning during these efforts. Not that I expect much from a journalist, when it comes to math.
At any rate, the Great Canadian Stanley Cup Drought continues.
On the Road with Bronco Billy
If you have some spare time, possibly due to lack of interest in the NHL playoffs, you might want to consider a nice road trip, exploring the non-hockey contrasts between Canada and the U.S.. If so, then “On the Road with Bronco Billy” is definitely your book.
Sit back and go on a ten day trucking trip in a big rig, through western North America, from Alberta to Texas, and back again. Explore the countryside, learn some trucking lingo, and observe the shifting cultural norms across this great continent. There's even some hockey playoff talk (Oilers-Denver and Oilers-Dallas), for those nostalgic for Canadian playoff representation.
It’s on Amazon (ebook), for a mere 99 cents (U.S.).
Amazon U.S.: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00X2IRHSK
Amazon U.K.: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00X2IRHSK
Amazon Germany: http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00X2IRHSK
Amazon Canada: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00X2IRHSK
A Dark Horse
Or, if you want to continue contemplating mysterious runs of luck, you could try “A Dark Horse”, which concerns the troubling run of good luck that a (fictional) horse player experiences.
Also on Amazon (ebook), for 99 cents (U.S.).
Amazon U.S.: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M9BS3Y5
Amazon U.K.: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01M9BS3Y5
Amazon Germany: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B01M9BS3Y5
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01M9BS3Y5