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Sunday, July 19, 2009

2005/6: An Olympics Hangover by The Colonel

From 13 – 27 February 2006 and just a bit more than half-way through the season, a halt was applied to the inertia of the NHL season in order to allow the game’s best players to represent their native countries in the XX Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Did this stoppage create ‘An Olympic Hangover’ – the ‘O.H.’ – where teams failed to play as well as they did before the break? Could that happen again during the 2009/10 season?

To answer the first question about an Italian O.H., we turn to the results of that season. Taking several measurements of NHL wins as a whole and the number of wins in 10 games both before and after the Olympic break, here is what the analysis tells us:

Average number of wins EVERY 10 GAMES in the NHL to secure a playoff berth: 5.67

Number of teams above the 10-game NHL average before the Olympics: 15

Number of teams below the 10-game NHL average before the Olympics: 12

Number of teams above their pre-Olympic 10-game wins post-Turin: 11

Number of teams equal to their pre-Olympic 10-game wins post-Turin: 5

Number of teams below their pre-Olympic 10-game wins post-Turin: 14

Difference in post-Olympic 10-game wins + above the NHL average: +2 games

Difference in post-Olympic 10-game wins + below the NHL average: -1.46 games

So overall, there IS a slight drop off in NHL average wins between pre- and post-Olympic timeframes. A little deeper analysis than the above produces two additionally noteworthy insights:

First is that of the 11 teams who improved between the two periods bookending the Olympiad, three of them (Atlanta, Florida and the NY Islanders) did not wind up qualifying for the 2006 Playoffs. So the improvement in post-Olympic play was only of benefit to eight teams, or 50% of the Playoff pool, when all was said and done.

And the stats also show that Vancouver missed the eighth Playoff seed by a margin of 1.5 wins. From the season’s outcome, the O.H. could be thought of as a reason they failed to make the 2006 Playoffs because that is exactly their deficit in wins after the break. Atlanta and Toronto both missed the Playoffs by that same 1.5 game margin or less but actually improved in wins post-Turin. The two teams' identical seven-game skid in January/February were the clubs’ undoing.

So using the 2006 Winter Games as an example, it can be said an O.H. exists because less teams play above the average number of NHL wins required to qualify for the number eight position in conference standings than prior to the Olympics. The O.H. let down also equaled the exact difference in wins Vancouver needed to secure the eighth seed in the West that season. Will a similar O.H. occur this season?

Where did I put my Magic Eight Ball? Dang. Without that thing to shake up, I have to give you my best guess at an answer to this question. So here goes: Yes, Virginia, there will be an O.H. this year. BUT…

It will not be as prevalent because the games are in Vancouver and not an ocean away. This will equal less fatigue/jetlag to adversely affect each participant’s personal output on the ice. You are likely to see a more discombobulating affect when the Trade Deadline occurs and team chemistries are thrown out of whack.

And for most teams, the drop off in production due to the O.H. will be relative. If only 3.33% of all NHL teams in 2006 can potentially tie their Playoff-qualifying demise to their play in the 10 games following the XX Winter Games, you might argue the O.H. has only a cursory affect on who does and does not enter the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Or you can point to the fact that after last season, four teams missed the Playoffs by that same 1.5-Game margin or less.

Or just look at the West’s tight race to land at least Number 8 and see:
  • A Dallas team that, minus the key injuries suffered last year, stands a chance of having the largest bounce-back of any team in the League this season.
  • Nashville, minus a five-game losing skid in late December/early January of last year, would have been a contender.
  • Team chemistry-dependant, what looks like an improved Los Angeles Kings squad might just be poised to enter the Playoff race this season.
Or, or, or.

A 2010 O.H. should be a mild one, but might also impact the Playoff picture in minor ways. Only time will tell.

Is it October yet?

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