Canada an underdog against field to defend men’s Olympic gold

As Canadian hockey fans gear up for the Olympics, I have good news and bad news.

Let’s start with the good news: Team Canada is the best team in this tournament, and the one most likely to win gold.  The bad news is Canada probably won’t win gold.

Before you start clamoring for my passport, hear me out.

This team really is an incredible collection of elite athletes.  It’s so good four of the top 20 scorers in the NHL (Thornton, Hall, Seguin and Giroux) didn’t make the cut.  The Americans only had the luxury of snubbing one guy in the top 20 (Okposo).

Meanwhile, the Russians are rostering Nikolai Kulemin.  That’s right – they just couldn’t leave the 288th leading scorer at home, despite his three-year vacation since his (only) 30 goal campaign in 2010-2011 (footnote for Leaf fans: Clarkson scored 30 more recently, and I’m starting an Internet rumour right now that some eccentric Russian billionaire is launching a “Birther movement” claiming Clarkson was born in Vladivostok).

I know – it’s hard to tell with the Leafs getting outshot nightly, but Kulemin isn’t half bad defensively.  Well, the same could be said for Toews, Bergeron, Getzlaf, Crosby and Duchene.

So let’s dispense with any fantasies about the Mighty Russian Hockey Powerhouse.  There’s high-end talent, but there are also guys who would be fighting for ice time on Team Slovakia.

To quantify how good Canada is, we looked at the consensus top 4 teams in the tournament and the average scoring production of their skaters over the past 2 ½ seasons.

We also looked at average ice time per game.  The idea here is if you want to know how good a guy is, how much his coach plays him is a fair indication.

Last of all, we looked at an “advanced stat” for the current season:  Fenwick %, which measures the difference between shots attempted (and not blocked) when a player is on the ice during five-on-five play.  So, for example, if the Bruins had 600 unblocked shot attempts when Bergeron was on the ice and opponents had 400, Bergeron’s Fenwick % would be 0.600.

Our numbers give a huge advantage to the Russians because only 15 of their 22 skaters have NHL stats available.  While I suppose there could be all sorts of KHL superstars we’ve never heard of, it’s fair to say giving more weight to Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk helps.  Call it home ice advantage.

As shown in the tables below, in every category, Canada was the best team.

Now to the bad news…

Assume there are no hiccups and Canada is pretty much guaranteed to be among the final eight.  Nothing is ever 100%, so let’s call that 98%.  Let’s then say the team has a 95% chance of victory in that quarterfinal game.

By the semifinals, Canada will likely play a pretty good opponent, maybe one of the other 3 top contenders.  Still, I’m willing to give the best team a 75% shot.

Gold medal games are never easy, so let’s call that a 65% chance.

For Canada to defend gold, all these things need to happen, which amounts to a 45.4% probability (98% x 95% x 75% x 65%).  Those are still good odds, but more likely than not, Canada loses one of those games.

I’m probably being generous here.  Most bookmakers give Canada 2:1 odds, which means a 33.3% chance of winning it all.  That’s better than any single team is getting, but against the field as a whole, Canada’s the underdog.



Goals / 20 Minutes Played

Assists / 20 Minutes Played

Points / 20 Minutes Played

Average Time on Ice

Fenwick %

Canada 0.393 0.527 0.920 19.78 0.540
USA 0.340 0.433 0.773 19.54 0.524
Sweden 0.286 0.475 0.760 18.18 0.525
Russia 0.360 0.464 0.824 18.48 0.511






Goals / 20 Minutes Played

Assists / 20 Minutes Played

Points / 20 Minutes Played

Average Time on Ice

Fenwick %

Canada 0.090 0.325 0.415 24.66 0.542
USA 0.075 0.290 0.365 23.58 0.509
Sweden 0.086 0.274 0.360 22.20 0.512
Russia 0.073 0.248 0.321 20.76 0.485


*Goals, Assists, Points and Average Time on Ice are averaged across all players for the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons.  Fenwick % is averaged across all players for the 2013-2014 season.


1 Comment

  1. PopsTwitTar's Gravatar PopsTwitTar
    February 25, 2014    

    so basically you just picked numbers out of the air? nice work.

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