http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/25/sport ... ports&_r=1
Several playoff contenders — the Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues, the Montreal Canadiens, the Anaheim Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Rangers — sent seven or more players to the Sochi Olympics.
With sentiment growing against sending N.H.L. players to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, those teams’ post-Sochi performance will be under the microscope as the N.H.L. season resumes Tuesday.
Opponents to the N.H.L.’s Olympic participation have long argued that clubs that send many players to the Winter Games tend to perform poorly after the break. The critics have had no real statistical evidence to back up the claim, though, and have largely based their opposition on individual teams that stumbled in the stretch run.
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Still, a little-noticed 2012 study may provide such evidence: It found that for every player an N.H.L. club sent to the Olympics, the club’s goal differential dropped by 0.088 of a goal per game compared with its performance before the Games. That is to say, clubs that sent many players to the Olympics in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 suffered a bigger performance drop-off, on the whole, than clubs that sent few players.
The study, conducted by the University of Massachusetts professor Neil Longley and published in The International Journal of Sport Finance, is believed to be the only one to quantify the Olympic fatigue effect on N.H.L. clubs during the run to the playoffs.
“It could be physical fatigue; it could be emotional fatigue — we can’t really answer that question,” Longley said in a telephone interview. “There could be an energizing effect to being at the Olympics. But the numbers show that the more Olympians an N.H.L. team supplies, the greater its post-Olympic drop-off relative to its pre-Olympic performance.”
Longley’s study looked at every N.H.L. team’s performance during those four Olympic years. He focused on goal differential because he considered it the single best measure of team performance, noting the strong correlation between goal differential and a team’s record.
Longley found no performance drop-off the following (non-Olympic) season among teams with a greater number of Olympians. That supports the idea that Olympic fatigue is limited to the immediate aftermath of the Games.
“The Olympics do seem to change competitive outcomes in the N.H.L.,” Longley wrote in the study. “The best-performing N.H.L. teams — because they send the most players to the Olympics — are somewhat disadvantaged relative to weaker N.H.L. teams.”
Over the phone, he cited the 2005-6 Rangers as a famous example of a post-Olympic decline.
That season, the Rangers sent Jaromir Jagr, Henrik Lundqvist and seven other players to the Games in Turin, Italy. They went into the break third in the Eastern Conference, with a 35-15-8 record and a plus-47 goal differential.
They went 9-11-4 after the break with a minus-5 goal differential, finished sixth and were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
The same year, Longley said, the San Jose Sharks, who sent only one player to the Olympics, went into the break in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a 27-21-8 record and a plus-3 goal differential. Afterward they went 17-6-3 with a plus-21 goal differential. They finished fifth and advanced to the second round.
If Longley’s findings hold true after the Sochi Games, the Red Wings could be in trouble. Detroit, which is in position for the last playoff spot in the East, sent 10 players to the Olympics. One point behind the Red Wings are the Ottawa Senators, who sent two players.
Based on Longley’s research, this eight-player difference would improve Ottawa’s post-Olympic goal differential by about 0.7 per game relative to Detroit’s. With Detroit having 24 games to play after the Olympics and Ottawa 23, that could translate to a roughly 16-goal differential in favor of the Senators over the remainder of the season and could help end the Red Wings’ 22-season streak of appearing in the playoffs.
Longley acknowledged that any individual team could still do well with a large number of Olympians. Detroit (in 1998 and 2002) and Chicago (in 2010) won the Stanley Cup after sending more players to the Olympics than the league average.
“It’s overall trends we’re looking at here,” he said. “We tend to focus on the championship runs, but we’re looking at the whole league. This is probability-based. Given what we’ve seen in the last four Olympics, there’s an increased possibility that teams that send more players to the Olympics will see a drop.”