Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Puck Luck: Does it Exist?

Is there such a thing as luck? Is there such a thing as a word that describes the indescribable, the improbable, and the desirable?

When it applies to hockey, luck is certainly a real thing. But not in the way you might think it is. It is as real as momentum, pressure, and confidence. It isn’t, however, something that is the decider of games, or exists as an absolute.

I have observed three general scenarios in which “Puck luck” is involved, or at least is portrayed to be. A lucky instance would portray a team that is awarded a goal from the opposing player, a team that has an unusually high PDO, or perhaps a team that wins the lottery under underdog circumstances. However, some instances which have something labeled as “luck”, actually aren’t luck at all.

In the first scenario, you have “luck” being the factor of a major event, namely scoring. As an example, you have game 3 of the 2009-10 NHL playoffs between the San Jose Sharks, and the Colorado Avalanche. With the score tied 0-0 in the first overtime period, Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly pursues the puck into the San Jose zone, pressuring Dan Boyle to try to clear the puck around the boards behind the goaltender. Instead, the puck caroms into the back of the net between the crossbar and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. This put the Avalanche up in the series 2-1.

This can be seen as a lucky goal. Obviously the goal was not a product of direct intention or skill from O’Reilly. So can the goal be credited only to luck? Some say that luck is the residue of hard work and design. Therefore, the event of the actually goal was by definition, lucky, but the goal would not have happened had O’Reilly not pursued that puck, and finished his check. The goal cannot be only contributed to luck, but credit to the work done in order to scenario for the luck to occur.

In circumstance number two, we use the stat PDO: combinations of save percentage with shot percentage. Using common knowledge, the average team’s shot and save percentages will add to 1, 100, or 1000: whichever you prefer. Basically, the consensus of the hockey community says that teams with the highest PDO are the luckiest, and therefore are due to regress back to 1000. The same goes with the teams who are underachieving. There is some evidence to support this, in certain sample sizes. However, the reason for a team to have a higher PDO than average does not mean they are necessarily luckier. A higher shot percentage could mean a team has a roster of players who have more skill, and shoot more accurately than the general make-up of a team. It also means the teams’ goaltender could be better. Including the intangibles as an explanation, can’t you say a team that is confident could produce the same effect? Luck can be used wrongly as a connotation for the unexplainable, or the stat whose meaning is open for discussion. It should never be used as an absolute explanation.

Perhaps the most obvious of uses for the word “luck”, the Colorado Avalanche were picked to draft the number one slot in the 2013 NHL draft, when they had lower chances than the Florida Panthers. According to, Florida had a 25.0 percent chance to win the lottery, opposed to Colorado’s 18.8%. Even though Florida was also technically an underdog against the field, because the field has a 75.0% chance of winning. However, Colorado had it’s ball picked, a moment could potentially shape the future of both franchises. In the draft, Colorado had the opportunity to pick from anyone eligible, and chose forward Nathan MacKinnon. Having MacKinnon now unavailable, Florida chose forward Aleksander Barkov Jr. Now Barkov may end up the better player than MacKinnon, but because the team with the unfavorable odds was picked, that moment of chance could skew Colorado in a better direction. MacKinnon is projected to be the more productive player. The description of this scenario is a proper use of the word, luck. Florida could be unlucky that they have missed out on a player who was, described by the odds, most likely to be theirs.

As a term that describes the unexplainable, or the plain pick against the favorable odds, I expect it to be used with loose discretion. There are right and wrong times to use it as a reference, however. And since sports are a world where fairness is always out of the equation, I expect luck to be a factor in the outcome indefinitely. Therefore, I bid your favorite team the same that was made famous by the Hunger Games’ Effie: “May the odds ever be in your favor!”

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