by PuckStopsHere on 05/17/14 at 05:30 PM ET
If a team had a 60% chance of winning every playoff round they played in, they would be a very good team. That team should be quite satisfied with their achievements and not be tearing itself apart because they are disappointed with their results.
What does it mean to have a 60% chance of winning every playoff series that you enter? It means that you have a 0.6^4 chance of winning the Stanley Cup in any given year as you have a 60% chance of winning in four different rounds. That leaves this team with a slightly under 13% chance of winning the Stanley Cup in any given year. A team with a 60% chance of winning in any playoff series they enter will probably not win the Stanley Cup in any given year. In fact they should go several years between cup victories. They should win the cup once every 7-8 years. Each other year they should lose to a team that they were favored to defeat.
Ray Shero has been Pittsburgh GM for 8 playoff years. During his reign the Pittsburgh penguins won the Stanley Cup once. These results are consistent with our hypothetical team that has a 60% chance of winning any given playoff series they enter. That result got him fired.
Obviously this model has been simplified from reality. No team could have the exact same chance of beating any opponent in a playoff series. In some cases the probability was above 60% and in others it was below that figure, but the fact the results fit that model and none of its inputs are too outlandish does support that it isn't too far off from the Pittsburgh Penguins current situation.
Ray Shero has been the Pittsburgh GM since 2006. He was quite lucky to take over a team with a young Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Most general managers do not have that opportunity. Nevertheless he built a good team. A team is not two individuals. A team is a group that can win the Stanley Cup. A team is a group that can win their division the last two years and never in the Shero years finish below second place in the division.
Firing Ray Shero is a panic reaction. It is a lack of understanding of probability. Pittsburgh has a good team. They have a solid chance of winning the Stanley Cup in any given season and yet they haven't won it since 2009. They lose to weaker teams in the playoffs. This is exactly what our simple mathematical model predicts. Shero lost his job because the Penguins ownership did not understand how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup. They underestimated the odds against it and punished the GM for that mistake.
Ray Shero is a very good general manager. He will have no trouble finding a job this summer. A new team will be happy to hire him. Pittsburgh will have a hard time finding anyone better to run their team. Odds are their next GM will not have the skills of a Ray Shero. It is always a bad sign when the man you fired is the top candidate to be hired for a vacancy league wide. That is exactly what Pittsburgh did.
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