If a season is to happen at all the pundits and observers believe the number of games played will be approximately 48, a similar situation to the return of hockey in 1995 after a 4 month lockout. Do hot starts or strong play in what has traditionally been the ‘doldrums’ of the hockey season make or break it for a team?
As I mainly concern myself with the Winnipeg Jets this scenario could be just what the Jets need as a year ago they were mid way through their ‘December to Remember’. A month which pulled the Jets out of the bottom run of the Eastern Conference and up to as high as 7th in the standings before falling back down to the outside of the top eight.
Last season it was not until January 31st that every team in the Eastern Conference had played at least 48 games with some playing as many as 52 games by that point. Here is what the standings looked like after 48 games played by all teams in the Eastern Conference.
2011-12 after 48 games
Rangers 67 points
Maple Leafs 55
No one else was within distance of making a dent into the top 8 after the Lightning.
The Leafs were in by virtue of having more wins than the Panthers and thus had bucked their playoff aspiration failures for the first time since before the last lockout. But is this, the first 48 games played, any kind of predictable model?
2010-11 after 48 games
2009-10 after 48 games
Looking at the past 3 seasons after 48 games played four teams, (Rangers, Bruins Caps, Pens) have taken up 50% of the 24 spots available for 3 appearances each. Three teams have taken up 25% of the spots with 2 appearances (Flyers, Senators Devils) and finally six teams have appeared just once or 25% of the spots.
I’m not a statistician in any meaningful way, but within the last three seasons there is only a 2-team variance from year over year: just 25% of spots of the eight available. It means any team who wants a chance at making the post season in a 48 game schedule needs to stay within a sniff of the top eight from the get-go.
Here is the top eight by year after each team had played at least 24 games.
2011-12 after 24 games
Maple Leafs 32
2010-11 after 24 games
2009-10 after 24 games
In the 2011-12 season 80% of the teams in the top eight, after they had all played a minimum 24 games, made the playoffs. The two teams to switch out were the Capitals for the Panthers and Devils for the Sabres.
During the 2010-11 season 100% of the teams in the top eight after all had played 24 games would be the same at the conclusion of a 48 games season.
Finally, in this small sample size, during the 2009-10 season as in 2011-12, 80% of the teams in the top eight after 24 games made the post season after a 48 game season. The Rangers knocked out the Thrashers and the Islanders pushed down the Lightning to be the only changes.
A 48 game season is rather compelling only because so much matters right from the start of the season. There can be no ‘free month’ for a team to get it’s systems going nor can physical conditioning or lack thereof be an issue.
The Winnipeg Jets need to look at the starts their previous incarnation the Atlanta Thrashers had in two season prior to Winnipeg. The Jets cannot be faced with a 9-11-4 start after 24 games as they were in the inaugural season. While it’s easy to look back and forgive a team and organization for having growing pains during that season a lockout is much the same situation. Players will be coming from all over the world to get ready to play a season in Winnipeg once again. This time there has been no contact from the team or office and training camp, what little there will be, has to build around new players.
It’s not hard to predict another uphill climb for the Winnipeg Jets should a 48 game season even happen. However, every team faces the same challenge but how many have to worry about Ondrej Pavelec’s off season shenanigans and recent play? That’s another issue altogether, we should hope we have reason to discuss it soon enough.