With NHL action finally taking place this week in the form of preseason hockey, fans are getting extremely anxious for the start of the 2015-16 regular season.
It is the first glimpse of NHL superstars playing in game action in over three months. After a long summer of free agency and relocation talks, we can finally put it all aside to discuss the current results and playoffs races.
But, as for the preseason, how much does it really matter? Considering that teams will ice most of their regular season lineup, you would think there wold be a strong correlation between preseason success and regular season success. However, that may not be the case.
Preseason games are often used to value players who are on the cusp of a full-time role. The time is also used to perfect special teams, and this year, to practice with 3-on-3 overtime. Of course the players aren’t in mid-season form, but it should still have some indication of the possible success of the year ahead.
Preseason Success = Regular Season Success?
Does winning preseason games mean that your team will have a solid year overall and through into the playoffs? Well, let’s take a look at how the preseason standings have related to the regular season in recent years.
First off, let’s see how the top performers in the preseason ended up doing the rest of the year. The top three teams in points percentage were Columbus, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jackets went 7-1-0 in preseason, outscoring opponents 28-17. They were predicted to put an improvement on their playoff berth in 2013-14 and looked strong heading into the season. However, it didn’t translate, as the Blue Jackets finished out of the playoffs by nine points. The reason for that failure was more due to the fact that their injury list was in the double digits just a month into the regular season.
The Kings started off their campaign strong as well, going 5-0-2 with a +6 goal differential. As reigning Stanley Cup champions, they were expected to remain a contender in the 2014-15 season. However, it didn’t go according to plan, as the Kings missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, by just two points. It’s tough to pinpoint where the Kings year went rotten, but it didn’t start in the preseason.
Finally, the Lightning were the only team to hold up their preseason success through the regular season. They went 5-1-0, while outscoring their opposition 22-8. They followed that up with a 108 point season on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were ousted by the Blackhawks in six games. They were the lone team to have success in both seasons.
Now, let’s see how the teams which had the worst preseasons ended up doing. The worst points percentages in the League were represented by Florida, Carolina, and Colorado.
The Panthers went 0-4-2 over six games, scoring just 10 goals and allowing 22 against. After being awarded with the 1st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft due to a subpar season, the expectations weren’t very high in Florida. The regular season followed suit of the preseason before making a late playoff push, only to come up seven points short. Maybe a better preseason could have resulted in a few extra points.
As for the Hurricanes, they were expected to be a bottom-feeder for the 2014-15 regular season, and played the part in preseason as well. They went 2-5-0 with a -5 goal differential, going on to a very similar regular season which saw them finish 14th in the East, 27 points out of a playoff position. A bad start to the year definitely didn’t help their case.
Lastly, the Avalanche had tons of pressure on them to prove that their division championship was no fluke. However, a terrible start lead to a miserable season. They were 1-5-2 in the preseason, scoring just 11 goals, while allowing 23. The regular season wasn’t much prettier, as the Avs dropped to 11th in the West, finishing seven points back of a wild card berth. Perhaps the pressure got to a young squad, or maybe a lousy preseason hurt their confidence before the year even began.
So, Is There Any Correlation?
As a League as a whole, there happens to be a pretty close relation between the points percentage in the preseason and the regular season. The average difference between those two numbers is a 5.415% drop from the preseason to the regular season. However, when looking at all 30 teams individually, there are generally large gaps between the two points percentages. In fact, five teams saw a drop of over 27% from their success in preseason to the regular season. On the flip side, four teams saw an increase of at least 20%, with the Panthers topping out at a 38.83% increase.
There were several teams that actually saw a very slight difference between the two seasons. 10 teams experienced a difference of less than 5%, with the Capitals having the closest relation, falling 0.91% in the regular season. Overall however, there simply isn’t a consistent relation between the two points percentages.
So all in all, whether your favourite team is a top dog in the preseason, or an early bottom-feeder, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Just look at the 2014-15 Stanley Cup champions, who had a 2-3-1 record in last year’s preseason. Of course, early habits can be formed amongst the team, like Colorado’s lack of goal scoring, which was translated to the regular season where they were shutout in back-to-back games to start the year.
But overall, preseason does not end up having a strong correlation to an individual team in the regular season.
How seriously do you think preseason should be taken? Let us know in the comments below!
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.