A tale of two tournaments: NHL and the Olympics

Are Medals Relevant?

Can Olympic participation be linked to NHL success in Olympic years? Is there a positive correlation, a negative correlation, or no relationship at all?

The question has always interested me. Perhaps participation in the Olympics wears a player out before the Stanley cup playoffs.

One of the issues related to undertaking this question is that not all Olympians are created equal. Sidney Crosby is not on the same level as Maxim Afinogenov, just as Jonas Gustavsson is no Roberto Luongo. For this reason we shall differentiate between “star” Olympians and “non-star” Olympians.

Unsurprisingly, there are more “star” Olympians on playoff teams.

Individual performance

Let’s take a year-by-year look at the Conn Smythe trophy, starting in 2002. The 2002 Olympics took place in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Conn Smythe winner in the 2002 Stanley cup playoffs was Nicklas Lidstrom.

Lidstrom was also a key player for team Sweden in the 2002 Olympics and played well despite in a disappointing tournament for Sweden. Lidstrom would go on to be instrumental in Sweden’s 2006 gold medal win and was named to that year’s all-star team.

So far, so good.

In 2006 the Conn Smythe winner – Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward – didn’t end up making Canada’s Olympic roster. Perhaps we can let that slide considering Ward was a rookie. He has since made the Olympic roster as a third goaltender.

Ward is the outlier in a pattern that we will see continuing into 2010, and perhaps can track heading in to Sochi.

Jonathan Toews was remarkable when he burst onto the scene.

Jonathan Toews was remarkable when he burst onto the scene.

The 2010 Conn Smythe winner was the Blackhawks Jonathan Toews, who had perhaps the best season of any player in the modern era. Toews played a tremendous two-way game prior to the Olympics.

He made the Canadian men’s ice hockey squad and from there helped his country to a home-ice gold medal performance. To top it all off, Toews was named best forward over such names as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and the Sedin twins.

Later in 2010 Toews won the Stanley cup with the Chicago Blackhawks and received a very deserved Conn Smythe trophy following a tremendous effort throughout the playoffs.

Two out of the last three Conn Smythe trophy winners were also big time Olympic contributors, and the one that was not was a young rookie who can be considered an outlier. So this seems to support that individual success links the Olympics and the Stanley cup playoffs.

But does the number of Olympians on a team predict playoff success?

Team Success

In 2010 the playoff teams averaged 5.312 Olympians per team while non-playoff teams averaged 4 Olympians per team. There was also a disparity between playoff teams with home ice advantage and those who began the post-season on the road.

Home ice playoff teams averaged 5.5 Olympians per team while road teams averaged 5.1.

Furthermore, teams that made the conference finals averaged 6 Olympians per team. The teams that made the cup finals had a slightly lower average than that at 5.5 per.

So what does this mean for the Canucks? To be honest, nobody really knows. It is reassuring that the team will have several Olympians. Ryan Kesler will suit up for the United States.

The Sedin twins and Alex Edler will play for Sweden. Roberto Luongo and perhaps Dan Hamhuis will be on the Canadian team.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be as many Olympians on the team as in past years, such as in 2010. This can partially be attributed to the youth movement that everyone is talking about.

Just like Cam Ward in 2002, Jordan Schroeder or Zach Kassian are not likely to make the Olympics even if they have great seasons because they are lower profile young players.

Stay tuned to see if the trends that we’ve looked at here will continue into 2014, and as always let me know what you think in the comments.


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About Travis Erbacher

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