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Faith in Luck

If you are someone who wants to see quantifiable facts, the opinion that luck is a factor of upwards to 55% is difficult to reconcile in a world that is often driven by undeniable results.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Thank you Hockey God for the luck that you've bestowed upon us to skate better, shoot harder, and pass more accurately. Our abilities and our opponent's lack of talent had nothing on our faith in Lady Luck. We thank you Hockey God. Amen.

After writing this column on Friday night, I had seen a comment about luck being a 40% factor in the outcome of a game. Now knowing that people actually believed in the analysis, I knew my tweet, 'I saw the most hilarious comment ever by someone who is into stats in hockey... they tried to put a % on luck. Sorry, no such thing as luck!' would generate a negative reaction.

The response wasn't surprising, 'you can't be serious' and 'some mathematical analyses that put the luck factor in hockey at ~55%'.

What you or I believe is luck will be different than another person's definition of luck.

Luck for me is one team playing another who played the night before. A goalie is lucky when he doesn't touch the puck but it fails to completely go over the line as ice shavings built up enough to stop it.

What quantifiable luck events occur in a hockey game to reach upwards to 55%?

The most common available data for any hockey game is the NHL's play by play event summary that provides a description of events, time of occurrence, and players on the ice.

For example, this event summary between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers in last season's game 7 in the second round produced the expected events like goals, assists, face-offs, hits, icing, blocked shot, type of shot, type of penalty, giveaway, takeaway, offside, puck frozen, puck in benches, and puck in netting.

What I didn't find is the real story here. I couldn't find one description that I could consider to be luck.


So how is anyone describing the game of hockey as high as 55% luck?

The only person I know watching every hockey game or attempting to do that is Corey Sznajder but unfortunately, he's looking at zone entries and not what anyone could call luck.

What is this luck that others speak of?

David Johnson's blog post at HockeyAnalysis on December 3, 2010 said the following, 'defined luck as being how many standard deviations their actual point totals were from their expected point totals' and finished with 'Regardless of what ‘skill’ we look at there does seem to be a small positive correlation between how good a team is and how good their luck is (as calculated from the betting lines)."

We should evaluate a player and team based on betting lines?

It was a curious find while researching luck that respected analyst Rob Volllman said, 'there are five basic ways that luck can influence a team's position in the standings: injuries, shooting and save percentages (which is called PDO when added together), their power play and penalty killing percentages (which is called Special Teams Index when added together), their record in one-goal games (regulation time only), and their record in overtime and shoot-out games."

Shooting percentage is luck?

It must have been luck that helped Mario Lemieux score that beautiful goal splitting between Neil Wilkinson and Shawn Chambers then undressing Jon Casey like a truck stop stripper in the 1991 Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota North Stars. Pure luck to get by those two stiffs on defense. Even more so to face the vertically challenged Casey.

How lucky were those New Jersey Devils to have Martin Brodeur stopping puck after puck as if he had the French army as his defense?

The blog site 'Springing Malik' created CHIP (Combined Cap Hit of all Injured Players) and at HockeyAbstract's Luck page, you can check it out. I left CHIP as full weighting and the other indicators such as PDO, Special Teams Index, one-goal or overtime/shootouts as none.

During the 2013-2014 season, 9 of 15 teams with a positive CHIP value made the playoffs. The previous season, 11 of 18 teams made the playoffs. Of the 9 that made the playoffs last season, 2 hadn't the previous season.

Not exactly an overwhelming statistic.

Luck as a factor on a single play, a single game, a season is not 40%, let alone 55%. Individuals are successful and teams win because they have more talent, play a system that takes advantage of the talent on the roster, majority of their talent stays healthy, teams value the importance of having offensive zone possession, and things like who a player plays with or against and in what role will determine more than a lucky bounce off the boards.

I respect the work by many analysts as it gets the conversation going and further drives creativity but I don't have faith in luck as a means of analysis because luck in general terms is nothing more than a word to describe a situation and does not directly tie into a specific quantifiable event.

If you do believe, I guess it is time to re-brand the Lady Byng Trophy to the Lady Luck Trophy.