The experience effect: Which NHL playoff teams are impacted most?

Originally Published: April 14, 2018
By Rob Vollman

DucksSean M. Haffey/Getty ImagesThe veteran-laden Ducks have 1,354 games of postseason experience, the most of any team in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As demonstrated by the Stanley Cup champion Penguins last season, experience can be a deciding factor in an otherwise evenly matched playoff series. That's good news for teams like the Predators and Lightning, who have big advantages in playoff experience over their first-round opponents, the Avalanche and Devils, respectively.

Using the previous career totals of each team's active roster, the series where experience might play the largest role becomes apparent, along with the individual players who are most likely to make the difference.

So, from the biggest differential to the smallest, here's the experience factor for each of the eight first-round series:


Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche

Experience: Nashville has 1,024 games, Colorado has 177
Advantage: Nashville, 847 games

The Avalanche have 17 players on their extended roster who have never competed in the playoffs, which is tied with New Jersey for the lead, one ahead of Winnipeg. On the flip side, Nashville has only a single player making his playoff debut, rookie Eeli Tolvanen. No other team has fewer than six.

Colorado has 29 combined seasons of playoff experience, which is the fewest in the NHL. The Avalanche also rank last with just 27 goals, 35 assists and 62 points. Former Predator Colin Wilson is the only non-goalie who has competed in the playoffs more than once. With 10 points in seven games, Nathan MacKinnon ranks second in playoff scoring to Wilson, who has 24 points in 47 games.

There is no such shortage of experience in Nashville, especially with the return of Mike Fisher, who leads the team with 12 seasons, 134 games, 23 goals and 51 points. P.K. Subban leads the team with 37 assists, and is tied with Nick Bonino for third, with six seasons.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils

Experience: Tampa Bay has 1,169 games, New Jersey has 563
Advantage: Tampa Bay, 606 games

The Devils have 17 players on their extended roster who have never competed in the playoffs, which is tied with Colorado for the lead, one ahead of Winnipeg. Their leading scorer, Taylor Hall, will be making his playoff debut, as will notable rookies Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt.

With 106 games in seven seasons, New Jersey's most experienced player is Brian Boyle. During the course of the season, the Devils gained some experience by acquiring Patrick Maroon, 42 games; Sami Vatanen, 40; and Michael Grabner, 29, but they will still be at a considerable disadvantage. This will be especially notable on the blue line, where Tampa Bay's Dan Girardi, Braydon Coburn, Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman all have at least 65 games of postseason experience.

Tampa Bay's most experienced player is Chris Kunitz, who has 27 goals, 65 assists and 92 points in 161 games in 12 seasons, and has won the Stanley Cup four times.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild

Experience: Winnipeg has 264 games, Minnesota has 811
Advantage: Minnesota, 547 games

Of the eight teams with the fewest combined seasons of playoff experience, Winnipeg and Colorado were the only two to make the playoffs. Winnipeg has just 37 combined seasons of playoff experience, which is tied for third fewest, well behind its first-round opponent, which ranks third with 97.

That means that there are quite a few notable playoff debuts for the Jets, including Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and goalie Connor Hellebuyck. That's why Winnipeg will be relying on Paul Stastny, who was acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. He leads the team with 14 goals, 21 assists and 35 points in 55 games in six seasons. Dustin Byfuglien is the only other player with more than three goals, and Mathieu Perreault ranks third with 11 points.

On the Wild, the most experienced player is Matt Cullen, who has played 123 playoff games in nine seasons for eight different teams, and has won the Stanley Cup three times. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter lead the team with 10 seasons, but the latter is out of the lineup with a broken right ankle. Parise leads the team with 32 goals and 71 points.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Experience: Pittsburgh has 1,158 games, Philadelphia has 617
Advantage: Pittsburgh, 541 games

The Penguins have the clear edge here, and lead the NHL with a combined 271 playoff goals, 443 assists and 714 points.

Their two key scorers are Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who have each competed in the playoffs 10 times, and have each won a Conn Smythe. Malkin has 58 goals, 99 assists and 157 points in 149 games, while Crosby has 57 goals, 107 assists and 164 points in 148 games. Add in Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin, and Pittsburgh has four players with at least 110 games of playoff experience.

Philadelphia's most experienced player is Valtteri Filppula, who has 24 goals, 55 assists and 79 points in 152 games in 10 seasons. Claude Giroux, who has 23 goals, is the only other player with at least 10 playoff goals.

Perhaps because their blue line had a combined total of 38 games of postseason experience, the Flyers added Johnny Oduya, who has played 106 games in nine postseasons, at the trade deadline.

Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Experience: Washington has 902 games, Columbus has 387
Advantage: Washington, 515 games

Of the 33 players on its extended roster, Columbus has a league-high 27 players who have competed in the playoffs, and six who haven't, which is tied for the second fewest. Of the six, rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois is the only one likely to be making his playoff debut this spring.

However, the depth of that playoff experience is marginal, in most cases. Three of the team's four most experienced players are recent acquisitions: Thomas Vanek, 63 games; Ian Cole, 56; and Mark Letestu, 30. Prior to the trade deadline, Brandon Dubinsky was the only player with more than 25 games of playoff experience (42).

Though Columbus' moves have helped to close the gap, Washington still has a clear experience advantage in this series. This is especially notable on the blue line, which includes the Capitals' most experienced player, Brooks Orpik, who has 125 games in 11 seasons; Matt Niskanen, 94 games; and John Carlson, 76.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Los Angeles Kings

Experience: Vegas has 528 games, Los Angeles has 993
Advantage: Los Angeles, 465 games

There are six active goalies with at least seven seasons of playoff experience, and Marc-Andre Fleury is the only one in the playoffs. His 11 seasons is tied for first among goalies; he ranks first with 62 wins, and his 107 starts ranks second to Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, who has 115.

Beyond Fleury, the Golden Knights are without much playoff experience, and will be at a disadvantage against the Kings. James Neal leads the team with 25 goals, 19 assists and 44 points in 80 games in seven seasons. Reilly Smith ranks second in goals, with eight goals in 18 games.

For Los Angeles, Jeff Carter is the most experienced player, with 116 games in nine seasons. He leads the team with 39 goals and 74 points. The Kings extended their advantage by adding plenty of experience in trades, including Torrey Mitchell, 75 games; Nate Thompson, 58; and Dion Phaneuf, 51.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Experience: Boston has 917 games, Toronto has 663
Advantage: Boston, 244 games

The late-season additions of Brian Gionta, 112 games; Rick Nash, 77; and Tommy Wingels, 54, provided a big infusion of playoff experience that gives Boston the edge in its first-round series with the Leafs. The bottom half of Boston's lineup is otherwise without very much postseason experience. Nick Holden, who has played 18 postseason games, ranks 12th of the 20 players likely to suit up during the series.

Boston's most experienced player is Zdeno Chara, who leads the team with 147 games in 12 seasons, and will be relied upon to shut down Auston Matthews. Offensively, Gionta leads the team with 32 goals, and David Krejci leads with 48 assists and 77 points.

With so many young players, Toronto will be leaning on Patrick Marleau, who leads the team with 68 goals, 52 assists and 120 points in 177 games in 17 seasons. There are no other Maple Leafs who have scored 20 goals, and Tomas Plekanec is the only one with at least 30 points (49). With just four goals in six games, Matthews is actually the team's fifth-leading goal scorer in the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks

Experience: Anaheim has 1,354 games, San Jose has 1,138
Advantage: Anaheim, 216 games

The series with the most combined playoff experience will take place in California, where Anaheim's players have a combined 126 postseasons, and San Jose's have 111, which ranks first and second in the NHL.

Anaheim's most experienced player is captain Ryan Getzlaf, who is tied with Corey Perry with 10 seasons of experience, and leads the team with 37 goals, 81 assists and 118 points in 121 games. He has scored at least 15 points on five separate playoff runs. In total, the Ducks have eight players with at least 80 games of playoff experience.

Though not expected to recover from surgery in time for the early part of the series, Joe Thornton is San Jose's most experienced player, with 123 points in 160 games in 16 seasons. Even without Thornton, the Sharks have three players with at least 110 games of playoff experience in defensemen Paul Martin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and captain Joe Pavelski. They should provide excellent guidance for Evander Kane, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline, and will be making one of this year's most notable playoff debuts.


Who is most experienced?

Here's a quick table that makes it easy to compare any two teams' experience levels heading into the first round:

Rob Vollman

Special to ESPN.com
Hockey analytics pioneer Rob Vollman is ESPN Insider's armchair GM, exploring how modern statistics can inform front-office decisions.

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