Analytics tells us who will win the Oilers vs. Panthers Stanley Cup Finals

One of the best Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent memory has now given way to a history-making fight for the cup. The Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers will meet in a series that will feature the most travel in NHL history for a series, with the two arenas being more than 3,000 miles apart from Northwestern Canada to the Southeastern United States.

There’s no shortage of incredible stories in this series. An old, proud hockey market vs. a new, renewed fanbase, two very different brands of hockey, and the NHL’s best player in Connor McDavid — a three-time MVP now trying to hoist his first Stanley Cup.

If we cut through the emotions of this series and dive into the numbers we get a clearer picture of who has the edge in this series — and who should bring home the cup in the end, at least according to the analytics.


It goes without saying that this is the hallmark of the Oilers, and what brought them to this point. Only three teams in the NHL had a higher Goals For (GF) this season, but the Oilers’ +57 differential was No. 2 in the west only to the Dallas Stars, and even then just barely.

Nobody in the NHL has better center play than Edmonton, who have an embarrassment of riches across their three top lines in McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Combined the trio put up a ludicrous 91 goals and 214 assists for a total of 305 pts this season, and this is both the team’s biggest strength and what this series will hinge on.

If Edmonton is allowed to set the tone in scoring they’re very difficult to catch. They recorded 765 high-danger scoring chances (HDF) in 2023-24, converting on 10.8 percent of these chances, which was No. 2 in the NHL only to the Vancouver Canucks.

In short: The Oilers offense is able to create mismatches with puck movement, and when that happens they make their opponents pay better than anyone else in hockey.

When it comes to the Panthers their offensive game is far more about grinding out the puck, getting gritty, and creating opportunities off their stellar forecheck. This team was only 11th in the NHL in scoring this season, however they love to control the puck in their own zone.

This isn’t a prolific scoring team, but Florida swallow teams like a black hole and force them to play at their pace. It’s for this reason the Panthers had 56.2 Corsi rating in 5-vs-5 situations this year, a measure of how much they were controlling the puck compared to their opponents — as well as a 55.3 percent rating in high-danger scoring situations, meaning they created more opportunities than they allowed.

When it comes to expected goals for (xGF%) vs. realized goals the Oilers are slightly below pace at -1.91%, which the Panthers out-performed their xGF by +2.75%, according to Evolving Hockey.

If we isolate the scoring entirely then the Oilers have an edge, but that comes with a huge asterisk until we talk about …


It’s here where the Panthers really come into their own. As different as these teams are offensively, the disparity in defense is a chasm. In even-strength situations it’s damn-near impossible to score against Florida, who only allowed 119 goals in 5v5 across 82 games this season.

Coach Paul Maurice has the Panthers running an aggressive, effective forecheck which takes tremendous pressure off his defenders. This has a knock-on effect where he can rotate in deeper defensive lines, which keeps his best skaters fresh for scenarios that they’re truly needed. If you dig into the on-ice time of the Panthers top four defenders they lag WELL behind that of the Oilers, and yet Florida allowed 0.48 fewer goals per game.

What this tells us is that essentially Edmonton had to work harder on the defensive end to a achieve a worse result, which is both a sign of the Panthers’ defensive depth — but also their ability to not lean on their top defenders nearly as much because of their forecheck.

Evander Kane of the Oilers leads both teams in hits by a forward by a significant margin with 250, but then it falls off quickly with only McDavid recording more than 100 hits by an Edmonton forward. Meanwhile, the Panthers have SEVEN forwards with over 100 hits this season, with Sam Reinhart recording a ludicrous 66 blocked shots this season to boot.

Florida is not a team that will happily skate back to their zone, reset and dare a team to enter their ice. Instead they prey on teams in their own third, forcing turnovers, creating chaos, and scoring as a result.

Defensively the key statistic here is expected goals against vs. actual. Similar to scoring, the Panthers have the edge here. The Oilers are at a -0.16 (lower is better in this stat), while Florida is a ludicrous -0.49.

It goes without saying that the Panthers dominate the defensive side of the ledger.


Anecdotally the knee-jerk reaction is to assume Sergei Bobrovsky of the Panthers owns this matchup — but it’s not nearly as clearcut. While Bob is certainly the more household name between him and Stuart Skinner, the Oilers goalie actually did tremendously well considering the circumstances he faced this season.

Skinner had a total of 35 quality starts this season to Bobrovsky’s 37. He allowed only .25 more goals per game, and his goal-point share of 9.2 was actually above league-average — despite the criticism the Oilers goalie gets.

If we factor in the quality of defense in front of each of these guys there’s probably a fair argument to be made that Skinner was better than Bobrovsky this season. It’s a tenuous claim to be sure, but the reality is that Bob hasn’t been incredible in 2023-24, but the team around him took off a lot of pressure.

The difference-maker is if these teams need to make a change. Beyond Skinner the Oilers don’t really have a great option, with the aging Jack Campbell and Calvin Pickard both having significant consistency issues. Meanwhile Florida has Anthony Stolarz to take over when needed, and while he’s not a night-in, night-out goaltender — he’s statistically superior to Bobrovsky this season.

Essentially in a head-to-head between starters it’s a push. If we factor in the depth then the Panthers edge out here too.

Special Teams

An extension of these teams’ offense and defense, it’s the power play and penalty killing where this series will get really fun.

Power Play

  • Oilers: 64-for-243 (26.34%)
  • Panthers: 63-for-268 (23.51%)

Oilers edge by +2.83%

Penalty Kill

  • Oilers: 53-for-258 (79.46% killed)
  • Panthers: 51-for-291 (82.47% killed)

Panthers edge by +3.01%

This is the thinnest of margins. We could really split hairs and say the Panthers are better overall, but it’s a stretch. However, what we do see from this is that Florida open themselves up to needing to kill penalties more because of their aggressive play style. Florida allowed 44 more power play opportunities than league average this year, while the Oilers only allowed 11 more than league average.

Overall we’re talking about very thin margins here overall. The Panthers give up chances, but shut them down. The Oilers take better advantage of their opportunities.

Who wins the cup?

I’m a big advocate of using statistics to glean information, but there remains dozens of things analytics can’t account for. The push-and-pull of a series, individual head-to-head matchups on the ice, the crowd, and in this series how the travel will effect both teams.

That said, all signs point towards this being a year where the Florida Panthers will win the Stanley Cup Finals. Their aggressive forecheck and defensive chops have a far better opportunity to throw the Oilers’ forwards off their game than vice-versa, and every matchup will require Edmonton to try to force early goals and pressure the Panthers to chase them. That’s a tactic that hasn’t really worked for anyone before.

My prediction is a 4-2 series win for the Panthers, and months of hand-wringing about a warm weather state taking home hockey’s biggest prize.

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