Out of Town Notebook: The Legitimacy of a Shortened Season
Photo credit: gohabs.com
So where were we before we were rudely interrupted?
Let’s get this out of the way first. I try not to waste energy worrying about things I can’t control. This is why 99.9% of the public bargaining, media coverage and fan reactions during the NHL lockout struck me as preposterous.
By paying attention, people were empowering both sides of the negotiation and simply encouraging bad behaviour.
How the league or its labour divides the revenue pie is frankly none of my business, because I’m neither an owner nor a player. I really don’t care.
I love the game of hockey, not economics.
Besides, no matter what the cap ended up being, good general managers will still be good general managers, good coaches good coaches, etc, etc.
You see, there was always going to be an NHL season.
Neither the players nor the owners could afford to jeopardize what has become a multi-billion dollar business. That’s why 48-game schedule was never anything but the end game to all this.
So it was simply a matter of waiting for the NHL to return. And now it’s here – in all of its gory glory.
Sadly, what hasn’t been talked about much in all the fuss over HRR and “make whole” is that the NHL game we left last summer wasn’t a very good product.
Goal-scoring and scoring chances were trending down; concussions and nasty violence were more prominent.
If anything, here’s hoping labour peace means the focus is now placed on how to improve NHL hockey.
One thing we’re likely to see over the next 7-14 days is a lot of discussion about the “legitimacy” of the upcoming season.
In particular, many will argue a 48-game schedule isn’t long enough to demonstrate the quality of an NHL club.
There’s a quick way to test this theory – compare a team’s results during the 48-game season with their results for the seasons before (93-94) and after (95-96).
In doing so, we quickly see that 24 of the 26 teams had “normal” results during the 48-game season. In this case, “normal” means:
- that their winning percentage was relatively the same across the three seasons; or
- their winning percentage was similar to either the season before or the season after 94-95; or
- a trend was apparent (they were consistently getting worse or getting better);
Only two teams during the 1994-95 season had results that were significantly out-of-character – the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.
|Montreal Canadiens||Season||New York Rangers|
|.571 winning percentage||1993-94||.667 winning percentage|
|.448 winning percentage||1994-95||.489 winning percentage|
|.549 winning percentage||1995-96||.585 winning percentage|
So what happened to these two teams in 94-95?
Despite playing the league’s third-toughest schedule, you can place the blame in Montreal at the feet of GM Serge Savard. He essentially panicked, ending the team’s string of 25-straight years of playoff appearances.
After a 4-3-2 start and worried about the team’s attack, Savard dealt his best defenseman (Eric Desjardins) and youngster John LeClair for Mark Recchi. Later in the year, and still in pursuit of scoring, Savard dealt Mathieu Schneider and Kirk Muller for Vlad Malakhov and Pierre Turgeon.
These two moves essentially devastated Montreal’s blueline. Patrick Roy faced roughly 32-shots a game, three more shots on average than the season before. He struggled with the increase (2.97 goals against; .906 save percentage).
The trades also made Montreal much easier to play against, as their league-worst 3-18-3 road record would attest.
And while Recchi and Turgeon played well, the team as a whole never got their attack going, finishing 22nd overall in goals for.
Malaise was the biggest factor in their year-long struggle for the defending Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers. The Rangers got off to a slow start (1-4) and lost seven in a row at one point mid-year. Former GM Neil Smith has since admitted there were challenges motivating his experienced squad. Interestingly, goalie Mike Richter also had a year to forget (2.92 goals against; .890 save percentage – which makes one wonder about the impact of goaltending over a shortened season).
Anyways, the Blueshirts found their game when it mattered, as they made the playoffs and upset the favoured Quebec Nordiques in the first round. So humbling was this loss that the Nords picked up their stuff and moved to Colorado for the following season.
Both the Habs and the Rangers rebounded in 1995-96 with improved play. The Habs dealt Roy and rode a stronger attack (top ten in goals for and on the powerplay) back into the playoffs. Conversely, Richter rebounded (2.68 goals against; .912 save percentage) and Mark Messier had his last great season (47 goals, 99 points) for New York, leading the team to a 96-point season.
Bottom line – there’s no reason to believe the upcoming 48-game NHL season will be any less legitimate than a regular 82-game schedule. Even when you look at the aberrations of the 94-95 season, it’s clear the things that hurt the Habs (bad trades) and the Rangers (Stanley Cup hangover) can happen any year.