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Competitive Impacts of a Lost Season - The Players

Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Worst case scenario time...

The most obvious impact on a full season NHL lockout is a year without hockey at the highest level of skill and intensity. True fans will curl up in a corner and moan for 7-8 months while their fragmented team works out alone or plays in lesser leagues in distant (or nearby) lands. They'll cover their ears and sing "la-la-la..." while spokesmen from the league and the NHLPA position and posture before the cameras while essentially saying that nothing is happening because neither side is willing to show weakness by inviting the other to a meeting. Lesser fans will find something else to do with their lives.

The financial impacts are clear. Arenas will lose a reliable paying tenant. Staff will be furloughed, businesses like restaurants, hotels, and bars near the arenas will lose game night business. TV time will have to be filled. Season ticket holders will either get refunds or a nice APR savings account for the duration, and players and owners will not get their millions in Hockey Related Revenue.

This has all been written and re-written, but less has been said about the impacts on the competitive balance of the game. Which teams will get a competitive advantage from the lockout, and who will be damaged? I wrote a series of articles this summer based on a theoretical competitive lifecycle of a hockey team in the era of the salary cap. I'm going to fall back on that analysis and extend it to what the loss of a season would mean to NHL players and teams once the NHL resumes. I assume that the salary cap will remain in place, but that it will likely be reduced to $60M or less when analyzing individual teams. I also assume that the effective AAV of each contract will be reduced by a percentage in parallel with the cap (through escrow) so no team under the cap today finds itself suddenly way over. I'm assuming no major rule changes, so unlike last lockout, there won't be changes to the competitive landscape outside of current personnel and draft picks. For some perspective, I'll look back to the 2004-2005 season to find examples of teams and players that either benefited or were damaged by the lost season.

This is the first in a series of three posts:

  • Competitive Impacts - The Players
  • Competitive Impacts - 2004-2005 Historical Perspective
  • Competitive Impacts - The Teams

Competitive impacts on individual players

With about 700 players on NHL rosters, and a similar number of top prospects, new draft picks, and free agents, it's clear than I can't (won't) examine the situation of each and every player. Instead I will group them and speak in gross generalities.

Rookies - The typical NHL rookie is between 19 and 22 years of age. His body and brain are still developing; he is still changing physically and psychologically. Not every rookie is Gabriel Landeskog, and a year of maturation physically and mentally will be a huge advantage for the young player. Another year of playing in Junior, if available, can also mean a more structured environment to develop game and life skills. The competitive downside is that there will be another whole draft class entering the league once play resumes. Players who might have made the big club could now be on the bubble.

Young Roster Players - These are the players who have shown the physical, mental, and hockey maturity to make the big time. Loss of a season means the loss of a full year of the highest levels of competition and coaching in which to hone their game to it's sharpest edge. Young players are still developing their hockey sense, and depending on where they end up, they might accelerate or retard their growth based on the quality of coaching, and the similarity of the coach's system to what they play in the NHL.

Mid-career Players - The mid-career player knows his role on the team. He knows the system. He sees the game in a way he didn't a few years ago, yet he still has the legs and the healing power to be productive for a full season and beyond. Losing a season now is a disaster, but there is some mitigation. Players who wait until later in the year to join another team, or those who take the year off, remove a year of wear and tear and might extend their careers. Injured players get another year to heal (think Teemu Selanne in 2004), and might find new life by going through surgeries that had been deferred (again, see Selanne, Teemu).

Twilight Players - Aging veterans will be trying to balance between reduced wear and tear, time to heal, and the aging of all their systems. A lost year when you might only have 3 or 4 left is a huge impact. Your ability to heal in your mid to late 30s doesn't compare to what it was in your mid 20s, and it declines quickly as you approach your 40s. Even your brain starts to slow down as you age, reflexes aren't what they used to be, and those darned kids keep getting bigger and faster and stronger. At some point, cagey veteran anticipation is no longer enough to compensate for old legs.

The Avalanche
Shifting to the Avalanche in particular, players like Matt Duchene and Eric Johnson will probably benefit most from the lockout. Both have some maturing to do, and won't be sacrificing a big percentage of their remaining careers. Of the prospects, I see Siemens taking a big jump, and Hishon getting healthy and back in the game. Barrie and Elliott could also benefit, although it's not clear who they would displace since the roster turnover on the defense in 2013-14 will be minimal without some trades. I see Paul Stastny as a classic mid-career guy who is going to wish locks had never been invented. Jiggy and Duke will both benefit from the time off, but since both have only a few years left, it's not clear if the time to heal will be offset by a loss of reaction time, strength, and quickness.