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Are the Chicago Blackhawks Currently the Luckiest Team in Sports?

BlackhawksWith their victory in game 6 over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Chicago Blackhawks won their 3rd Stanley Cup Championship in the last 6 years. This is an incredible feat that no doubt means the Blackhawks have been a very talented hockey team over that stretch. But just like random variation can play a part in quality processes, luck can play a part in sporting outcomes. So how lucky has Chicago been?

Probability of Winning 3 Out of 7 Stanley Cup Championships

The Blackhawks have won 3 of the last 6 Stanley Cups, but their run really began the year before they won the first cup, which was 2009. That was the first year they had made the playoffs in 7 years, so I’ll start collecting the data from there. For each year, I took the odds that the Blackhawks would win the championship at the start of the playoffs and turned that into a probability. Rows in bold represent years the Hawks won.

Year

Odds

Percentage

2015

8 to 1

11%

2014

8 to 1

11%

2013

7 to 2

22%

2012

15 to 1

6%

2011

60 to 1

2%

2010

8 to 1

11%

2009

11 to 1

8%

Average

9 to 1

10%

The only year Chicago was actually the favorite to win the cup was 2013, and even then they had a less than 1 in 4 chance of winning. So they have overcome some pretty long odds.

To calculate their overall odds of winning 3 championships in 7 years, I’m going to use their average percentage of 10%. Our number won’t be perfect, but it will give us a pretty good idea of how unlikely the Blackhawks run has been. The following Minitab probability distribution plot shows the probability of the Blackhawks winning 3 or more championships in the last 7 years.

Binomial Distribution Plot

There is only a 2.6% (approximately 1 in 42) chance that the Blackhawks would have won 3 or more championships in the last 7 years! There is no doubt that skill and talent are integral parts of Chicago’s success. But to win as often as they have, you need to have some luck too. And speaking of luck, had you bet $100 on the Blackhawks at the start of the playoffs each of the last 7 years, you would be up $1,650! So if you think all these championships are something that could easily have been predicted (Kane! Toews! Hossa! Of course they won!) Las Vegas begs to differ.

Now, what would this graph have looked like if Chicago was the favorite at the start of each Stanley Cup Playoffs? I found that for each year, the favored NHL team has about a 20% chance of winning it all. So let’s look at another binomial distribution plot.

Binomial Distribution Plot

Even the NHL favorite winning 3 championships in 7 years is unlikely, happening only about 15% of the time. We see that the most likely outcome is that the favorite would win one championship. And wouldn’t you know it, the only NHL favorite to win the Stanley Cup the last 7 years was the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks.

Can We Find a Luckier Team?

Believe it or not, there is one team that has overcome even greater odds to recently win 3 championships. That would be the San Francisco Giants, as they won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. That’s 3 titles in 6 years! And their respective probability in each of those years was 11%, 12%, and 7%. The other 3 years they didn’t even make the playoffs. It’s feast or famine with San Francisco! So the odds of winning 3 World Series in the only 3 years you make the playoffs……

0.11*0.12*0.07 = 0.000924 = approximately 1 in 1,082

Sorry Chicago, your run was impressive, but the Giants have proven Lady Luck is on their side even more. But do you want to overcome them? Well, how does 4 Stanley Cups in 8 years sound?

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