NHL

NHL Preseason: Does Winning in Training Camp Equate to Regular-Season Success?

Sep 18, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Mark Acrobello (62) reaches across Vancouver Canucks forward Hunter Shinkaruk (48) during the third period at Rogers Arena. The Edmonton Oilers won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor
Mark JonesSenior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2013

As the 2013 NHL preseason rages along with a nightly cacophony of ridiculous scores, the debate of the preseason's true value has risen again with fervor.

In terms of player development, team chemistry and opening-day preparedness, hockey's month-long preseason and training camp is indisputably vital for all 30 franchises.

But just how indicative are preseason results of corresponding success in the regular season?

The answer has, throughout history, proven to be cloudy and uncertain.

Over the past five seasons—due to the autumn lockout of 2012, the NHL held no preseason games before last season—just under two-thirds of preseason winners have repeated those victorious ways in the regular season.

That 61.3 percent mark is a suggestive, but hardly decisive, statistic with which to weigh training camp's relevance.

If the outlying 2009 campaign is thrown out, however, the number jumps to 66.0 percent and begins to move toward a genuine conclusion.

Moreover, of the 30 preseason division winners over those same five years, 19 qualified for the playoffs the following spring and 11 also took their respective division crowns during the regular season.

The 2010 preseason, in fact, predicted the exact final standings of both the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions.

Sep 18, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Cris Nilstorp (41) makes a save on Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) during the overtime shootout at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeated the Panthers 3-2 in the overtime shootout
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nonetheless, the picture painted by those stats may not be as clear as it at first seems to be.

The NHL's flexible preseason oversight allows teams to schedule their own games and therefore play as many as 10 or as few as three matches during September's festivities. Additionally, the inclusion or non-inclusion of simultaneous split-squad games can tilt the standings in various directions.

After all, the last three Stanley Cup champions—Chicago (15-15-5), Los Angeles (16-10-8) and Boston (16-13-5)—all have losing preseason records from 2007 on.

There hardly exists a more convincing argument against the preseason's debated relevance.

Sep 19, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Corey Tropp (78) poke checks the puck from Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey (65) during the third period at First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Hurricanes 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin H
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

So Canadiens, Canucks, Penguins, Kings, Islanders and Hurricanes supporters needn't worry too much—a poor preseason performance this month surely won't doom their team's fate for the next six months.

Yet recent history has, if nothing else, certainly proven that training-camp results do indeed have some rough correlation to regular-season success.

Worthless crapshoot the preseason is not.

But highly accurate predictor it is neither.

 

Mark Jones has been a NHL featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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