A common refrain during the lockout was that the players who went overseas to Europe or who played in the AHL would be far more ready to go once the season actually started. With the shortened training camp and no pre-season, players who were already at game-speed would presumably have a leg up on those who were just skating on their own or with college or junior teams.
Now that the season has started, has that been borne out at all? Do the players who have been playing games have an advantage over those who don’t?
It’s difficult to get accurate numbers for how many NHLers played in Europe, the AHL, or the ECHL during the lockout. Most of the lists I have found are incomplete. Judging from lists available at TSN, over 250 NHLers played somewhere during the lockout. 630 players have played at least one game so far this season. That means approximately 40% of players currently playing in the NHL found somewhere else to play during the lockout.
If playing during the lockout did provide an advantage, we would expect to find a higher percentage of such players at the top of the NHL scoring race, taking into account that we’re look at a very small sample size of just 2 or 3 games. Unfortunately, a small sample size is somewhat necessary in this case, as you would expect any advantage gained by playing during the lockout to disappear fairly quickly as everyone else got up to game speed.
I decided to keep it simple and just look at points-per-game. I only considered players who had played at least 2 games and had at least a point-per-game. There are 103 such players, with 44 scoring more than a point-per-game.
Starting with just the top point-producers, there are 11 players who have scored at least 2 points-per-game. Of those, 6 played during the lockout, all overseas, including leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who has 6 points in just 2 games. Oddly enough, 4 of the 5 who didn’t play during the lockout are on the Anaheim Ducks. That’s a slight majority, but doesn’t seem enough to conclude that playing during the lockout really helped.
If we include those who have 5 points in 3 games, an average of 1.67 points-per-game, then we have 19 players. Of those, 11 played during the lockout. That’s a percentage of 57.9, which seems a bit more significant. At this point we also have the three players tied for the league-lead in goalscoring with 4: Daniel Winnik, Patrick Marleau, and Marian Hossa. None of them played during the lockout.
Expanding to include all skaters who have scored more than a point-per-game gives us 44 players, 21 of whom played during the lockout, including Cory Conacher and Jordan Eberle, who played in the AHL, and Kyle Clifford, who played in the ECHL. That’s a percentage of 47.7%, which is still more than the 40% of players that played during the lockout, but not significantly so.
Finally, if we include all 103 skaters who have scored a point-per-game or greater and have played at least 2 games, there are 54 who played during the lockout, 52.4%. That’s approximately 13 skaters more than would be expected from the percentage of players who played during the lockout.
My one concern about drawing a definitive conclusion from these numbers is that it seems like the majority of players that went overseas during the lockout were skilled players. If a higher percentage of those who played during the lockout were point-producers to begin with, it would stand to reason that a higher percentage of the top scorers would have played during the lockout. I would be more comfortable making a conclusion one way or the other if the percentage was higher or lower.
Taking a quick look at goaltenders, we see a similar situation. 46 goalies have appeared in at least one game this season, 15 of whom played during the lockout. Looking just at those who have appeared in at least 2 games, that leaves us with 32 goalies, 12 of whom played during the lockout, 36.4%. The top six save percentages so far this season come from goaltenders who didn’t play during the lockout.
Expand it to goaltenders with a save percentage above .920, however, and we end up with 7 goaltenders who played during the lockout out of 15, 46.7%. That seems significant, but it’s basically just 1.5 goaltenders more than we would expect.
Essentially, it appears that playing during the lockout may have given some players a slight advantage going into the season, but the numbers aren’t quite significant enough to say so definitively.