Has the salary cap increased playoff parity?

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 13: Ryan Suter #20 of the Nashville Predators is pursued by Todd Marchant #22 of the Anaheim Ducks for the puck in the third period of Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on April 13, 2011 in Anaheim, California. The Predators defeated the Ducks 4-1. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


The short answer:  possibly, a little bit, given a pretty small sample size.

The long answer is done with a little bit of basic, basic analysis. The question I was trying to answer stemmed from a discussion my brother and I had about whether or not the salary cap has provided a more level playing field in the playoffs. Gone are the supposed days of superteams, even if the Canucks are looking mighty good this year. Also thankfully gone are the days of the Rangers being able to afford a Holik and a Bure and a Kasparaitis. Now, we can afford a Redden and a Drury, but only if one of them plays in Hartford. So, has the cap done what it advertises? Or are the smaller market teams still victim of the bigger market teams pulling the ball puck away right as they're about to kick it?

Chart_1_medium

PRE- 99-00 Playoffs - 03-04 Playoffs

POST- 05-06 Playoffs - 09-10 Playoffs

This chart is a result of tracking the round(Conference Quarterfinals through Stanley Cup Finals, or 1st-4th) that each seed advanced to in the years 99-00 through 03-04 and 05-06 through 09-10 Given a very limited set of data to work with, we see that the bottom seeds are advancing further than they were pre-lockout, as a whole, suggesting a smaller disparity between 1st and 8th. Could Bettman be on to something?

 

Seed 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Average Finish

PRE

1st 2 2 2 4 2.8

2nd 6 0 2 2 2

3rd 3 4 2 1 2.1

4th 1 6 2 1 2.3

5th 9 1 0 0 1.1

6th 7 0 2 1 1.7

7th 4 5 0 1 1.8

8th 8 2 0 0 1.2

POST

1st 3 3 3 1 2.2

2nd 2 3 0 5 2.8

3rd 6 4 0 0 1.4

4th 5 1 2 2 2.1

5th 5 4 1 0 1.6

6th 4 3 3 0 1.9

7th 8 1 0 1 1.4

8th 7 1 1 1 1.6

 

There is the raw data for the chart. The top four seeds went down, as a whole, an average of .7 rounds. Interestingly, a second seed has been to the finals each year following the lockout, following a dismal stretch where they either went one and done or to the third and fourth rounds.

Chart_2_medium

 

SEED PRE POST

1st-8th 124.321 124.065

2nd-7th 114.702 114.702

3rd-6th 109.72 103.937

4th-5th 105.501 104.447

 

 

This chart and accompanying data show the relationship in point differential expressed as a percentage of top over bottom. The simple reason for this instead of raw points is because of the point inflation seen post-lockout with the adoption of three point games happening far more often. As you can see on the graph, the 1-8 and 2-7 matchups haven't changed all too much in terms of points earned during the season. 3-6 has gotten a lot closer, and 4-5 has gotten insignificantly closer.

So, given the current season's wacky down-to-the-wire hijinks, I wonder if we will see the trend of lower seeds doing slightly better continue. I sure hope so when it comes to New York-Washington, but I'm not sure I can smugly point to this line of research and start talking trash, especially on the heels of a 2-1 loss. So, that caveat there, I have a couple of questions:

  • Given that I'm by far and away not the statistical one out of the writers here, what do you think of analyzing what amounts to eighty teams? Too small sample size? Should we revisit this in a couple of years?
  • Is playoff success a measure of parity? Bud Selig likes to flaunt how many individual winners of the World Series there have been in the past twenty years, but we are getting there with what could be the eighth different team in a row.
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