Do You Have to Be Tall to Be Good in the NHL?

Average NHL height in 2013-14 season

Throughout its history, the NHL has often favoured the idea that “bigger is better.” This belief stems from the physical nature of hockey, where size and strength are seen as significant advantages. Historically, NHL teams with higher average heights were thought to have the upper hand. They’re expected to win battles along the boards, and use their body size to protect the puck and deter opponents.

The Early NHL Years

In the early decades of the NHL, the physical demands of the sport led to the common belief that bigger players were inherently more valuable. This was especially true for defensemen, who were expected to clear the net front and impose a physical presence that could change the dynamics of the game. Larger forwards were also valued for their ability to screen goalkeepers and use their bodies to maintain puck possession. Over the history of the game, the league saw an increase in average NHL height.

Shift Towards Speed & Skill in the Late 20th Century

As the NHL evolved, so too did the understanding of player effectiveness. By the late 20th century, the league began to witness a shift where skill started to become more important. The success of relatively shorter players like Theo Fleury and Martin St. Louis, who excelled through speed, agility, and skill, began to challenge the traditional views. They brought down the average NHL height in the process. These players demonstrated that strategic thinking and finesse could also lead to dominance on the ice, regardless of a player’s physical stature.

Modern Perspective and Hockey Analytics

Today, the NHL is increasingly influenced by analytics. This has further altered the perception of player value related to height and physicality. Modern analytics often highlight other attributes, such as puck control, shot accuracy, and positional awareness. This has led to a more nuanced understanding that while physicality can be advantageous, they are not the sole determinants of a player’s value.

No Correlation Between Average NHL Height & Success

A recent analysis by LongShotIsHere, has sparked an intriguing discussion in the NHL community. By comparing the average heights of NHL teams to their final standings in the 2013-14 season, the findings challenge some common perceptions about the physical advantages in hockey.

The scatter plot I created from this data vividly contrasts team heights with their season performances. This reveals a surprising trend: being taller doesn’t necessarily equate to better performance in the NHL.

Of course, this analysis looks at just regular season standings. There is a common belief that physically becomes more intense in the NHL playoffs, which can lead to further advantages.

Take, for example, the Montreal Canadiens. Despite being the NHL’s shortest team with an average height of 6 feet, they finished 9th in the season. This performance is a testament to the fact that skill, strategy, and teamwork often outweigh physical attributes like height.

Conversely, the Chicago Blackhawks, who were last year’s Stanley Cup champions, ranked 15th in average height. Their success underscores that having a balanced team composition, rather than just taller players, can contribute to a team’s success.

This analysis provides a fresh perspective on how physical attributes like height impact team performance in professional hockey. It suggests that while height might provide certain advantages on the ice, it is not a definitive factor in achieving success in the NHL.

The findings from this study not only add a new layer to our understanding of team dynamics but also encourage a broader discussion about the diverse factors that contribute to success in sports.

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