How Important are Preseason Stats in Hockey?

When your team performs well in the preseason, there’s cause for excitement and anticipation. When your team does poorly, the usual response is “oh it’s only the preseason”.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Exhibition games are hardly an indication of what a team will look like through the course of the season. Prospects and farmhands often get a lot of playing time, teams sometimes play split squad games and don’t even have their real head coach behind the game. Veteran goalies share the net with rookies who probably won’t see any icetime in the regular season.

So how much stock should we put into the preseason, especially the first few games before the majority of cuts have been made? Consider this. In the 2011-12 preseason, the Nashville Predators lead the league with seven wins. They advanced to the second round of the playoffs that year, while the third place Pittsburgh Penguins were blown out in the first round. Dallas, Columbus and Edmonton finished in the top five in the preseason standings. None of them made the playoffs.

The previous year, the Calgary Flames finished atop the preseason standings, as did the forth place Toronto Maple Leafs, and neither of them made the playoffs that season. In fact, the Stanley Cup champions typically finish in the middle, and often toward the bottom of the preseason standings. Based on these facts, can we really read anything in exhibition games at all?

The answer is yes, because preseason games aren’t there to provide you with help in your predictions, or your fantasy hockey team. They are there for teams, coaches and players to prepare for the season while allowing their prospects a chance to get in some NHL action. Take a look at the goal scoring leaders for the preseason. Very often those stats don’t translate into the regular season. So as fan, don’t get too high or too low over the preseason, despite how up in arms social media may get.

The Edmonton Oilers have played two exhibition games so far, both against the Calgary Flames. They lost at home in a shoot-out 6-5, but beat the Flames in Calgary 3-2.

Taylor Hall looked good playing center. He scored a goal 24 seconds into the game and wasn’t out of place at all at the center of the ice. When measuring the importance of preseason games, Hall is the perfect example. The boxscore doesn’t matter as much as a player becoming acclimated to a new position before the stats start to really count in the standings.

Rookie Darnell Nurse got an assist on Hall’s goal, though his status is still up in the air. The Oilers first round pick isn’t a lock by any means to stay with the team, but a strong showing in the preseason might give management something to consider. He survived the first round of cuts this morning.

As for goaltending, starter Devan Dubnyk performed admirably, stopping 12 of the 13 shots he faced. Olivier Roy had less of an impressive showing, allowing four goals, and two in the shoot-out.

Devan Dubnyk Oilers
Devan Dubnyk (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

In the second Oilers game, which they won, back-up Jason LaBarbera was prefect in his debut, while Richard Bachman allowed two goals on 10 shots. Newcomer David Perron scored Edmonton’s second goal.

The Oilers played well in both their games, though Calgary isn’t expected to be much of a contender this season. In any case, probably the most important aspect of this preseason is for Hall to get accustomed to playing center, and for the new guys like Perron and Andre Ference to get comfortable in a new system. Wins and losses don’t start to matter until October first.