Why the ’76 Canucks were among the most mediocre NHL teams in history

The Vancouver Canucks and Philadelphia Flyers in the late 70's, including Don Lever (right) who skated on the infamous '76 team (AP Laserphoto,1978)

As we count down the most impressive NHLers currently plying their trade in the big leagues, here’s a change of pace to mull over — which collection of players would you guess put forth the most statistically mediocre campaign in league history?

The statistical gurus over at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers and came up with a few answers, pinning down the most average squads to do their thing in the NHL, as well as those in each of the other major sports.

As it turns out, the 1976 Vancouver Canucks — led by the likes of Dennis Ververgaert, Don Lever and Chris Oddleifson — rank as the most statistically average NHL team among all those measured by FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine. Luckily, that doesn’t encompass the entirety of the league’s history — 1971 is as far back as detailed opponent stats are available for all four major sports, thus serving as the cutoff for the stats collected.

So, the ’76 Canucks are only the most mediocre club to take the ice in the NHL in the past 47 years. Not bad, I guess.

Paine used four categories, each weighted differently, to work out his mediocrity algorithm: the highest-weighted was points differential (weighted at 10); followed by goal differential (8); goals per game, both for and against, versus the league’s average (6); as well as shots per game and shooting percentage, both for and against, versus the league’s average (4).

“The weights are somewhat arbitrary,” Paine wrote. “But hopefully they make sense: A record close to .500 is the essence of average-ness — and worthy of the strongest weight — but we can also give bonus points for being average at every level as we dig deeper into a team’s statistical portfolio.”

So, which clubs rounded out the list of the most average teams to compete over the past half-century of NHL action?

The ’76 Canucks, who posted a 33-32 record with 15 ties, and scored just one fewer goal than they allowed, only narrowly beat out the 2008 Nashville Predators, who came up with a 41-32-9 record, scoring three more goals than they allowed.

Here were the rest of Paine’s top 10 average squads (with their records in brackets) — three 2000-era clubs managed to crack the list, while the Canucks and Red Wings each featured twice, Vancouver’s ’83 squad breaking through as just average enough, too:

1. 1976 Vancouver Canucks (33-32-15)
2. 2008 Nashville Predators (41-32-9)
3. 1997 Phoenix Coyotes (38–37–7)
4. 1975 St. Louis Blues (35–31–14)
5. 2009 Anaheim Ducks (42–33–7)
6. 1979 Los Angeles Kings (34–34–12)
7. 2014 Detroit Red Wings (39–28–15)
8. 1989 Hartford Whalers (37-38-5)
9. 1983 Vancouver Canucks (30–35–15)
10. 1978 Detroit Red Wings (32–34–14)

As for professional sports’ current landscape of mediocrity, Paine found the Pittsburgh Pirates to be the most statistically average club as of this moment.

Elsewhere, the New Jersey Devils ranked as the most currently mediocre team in the NHL, while the Washington Wizards earned that distinction in the NBA and the Seattle Seahawks did so in the NFL.

Long-term, though, it’s another NHL club taking the very average cake over the rest of the professional leagues — but rest easy, Vancouver, this one goes to the Broad Street Bullies.

Landing between 39 and 42 wins in four of their past five seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers earned a not-so-glorious distinction from Paine for their past half-decade of work.

“According to our algorithm, no team in major pro sports has been more consistently mediocre over the past five seasons than the Flyers,” he wrote.

Canada did manage to crack the average-ness rankings in one other category, courtesy of the 2001 Toronto Blue Jays — the same team that, interestingly enough, featured the six-game home run streak by Jose Cruz Jr. that was just recently surpassed by present-day Jay Kendrys Morales.

Though that group had Cruz’s notable streak in the fold, the 2001 Jays ranked as the ninth-most mediocre MLB team in nearly five decades, according to Paine — not the most illustrious distinction, but perhaps a welcome sight given the 2018 squad currently sits 12 games below .500.

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