The team that scores the most goals may not win the Stanley Cup, so long as they accrue the most penalty minutes. That’s what I learned from this animated visualization by Bård Edlund. It’s a 16-headed hockey rink, tracking every single shot of the NHL’s 2012 playoffs, in the actual order they occurred (even accounting for games played simultaneously). It also tracks overall team penalties as a radial graph in the center of the rink—suitably spreading across the ice in red.
As we all know now, the eighth-seeded Kings defied their record and clenched the cup. But what you might not have known, unless you’re a hockey fan who keeps up with the sport, is that it was the Kings’ physical play—brute force rather than stick finesse—that won them the cup. You can read about it here, or you can see the exact same story play out in the data of this video. Fascinating, no? Both the designer and the sports writer end up in the same place.
"Some might argue that this could have been done as a static graphic, by just showing the final frame. … But I found that if you immerse yourself in it, there is an almost hypnotic quality that reflects the marathon effort that goes into winning the Stanley Cup," Edlund tells Co.Design. "It’s also interesting to see the stats change over time—for example, the Sharks take a lot of penalties early on, but by the time they’re eliminated, three teams have caught up. Or, watch how the Kings have what looks like an unremarkable start, but end up gaining more and more momentum. They come from behind in penalty minutes as well, ending up with the most of any team!"
As for the graphic itself, some may have qualms with the tiny pucks and goals, writing them off as skeuomorphic. But in reality, they’re iconographic (figuratively representative rather than faux ornamental), making the entire visualization immediately recognizable—the perfect literal stand-in for stacking and organizing this data set. There’s also a whole level of audio storytelling taking place, as you can not just see, but hear, when each team scores a goal (their tone correlates with their seed, so the high notes were the favorites, and the low notes were teams like the Kings).
On my laptop speakers, the Kings are so low, in fact, that I can’t decipher the sound. It’s as if they aren’t worthy of anyone’s attention, until they crack some skulls and take it all.