Long one of the game’s leading scorers and a key acquisition for the Bruins playoff run from the Dallas Stars, Jaromir Jagr, entered the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs with 78 career postseason goals, good for 11th on the alltime list—just one behind Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau who notched his last playoff goal in 1971. Now 18 games into the playoffs, two-games into the Finals, and following a Game 2 blast that got past Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford but rang off the goalpost in overtime, Beliveau remains alone in 10th place and Jagr still has a zero in the goals column.
Mario Lemieux's former sidekick's goal-scoring drought has reached 27 games dating back to early last postseason when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers, an unimaginable stretch for someone who has scored one goal nearly every two NHL games for which he laced up his skates. Discounting the puck that eluded Crawford (since it wasn’t on net) Jagr, 41, has taken 51 shots this postseason, the most he’s unleashed in the playoffs since 1995-96, when he peppered goalies a career-high 74 times, but those resulted in a career-high-tying 11 goals. The drought has dropped his career postseason shooting percentage a full point, down from 12.9% to 11.9%.
Since 2008 (including three years spent with Avangard Omsk in Russia) Jagr has just one Stanley Cup playoff goal in 29 games. He's now in serious danger of being one of the least likely achievers of a dubious distinction: unleashing the most shots in one playoff season without scoring a goal in the post-Original Six Era. That title is currently held by former Florida Panthers defenseman Gord Murphy, who failed to score on any of his 53 shots during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What's even more shocking about the drought is that Jagr had a decent regular season. He managed 16 goals for the Stars and Bruins, admittedly a career low, but he was actually Boston's leading scorer from April 4, the day he joined the team, until the end of the regular season, with nine points, including two goals. And while not lighting the lamp, the sure Hall of Famer is contributing—his seven assists place sixth on the B's in helpers and tie him for seventh on the squad in points during these playoffs.
Game 3 is tonight at 8 PM at the Garden and on NBCSN.
For the 10th time in their last 24 postseason games the Bruins needed extra time to settle a playoff game. But after winning four of the first five of those contests this postseason run, they came up short early Thursday morning, dropping a 4-3 game to the Blackhawks in Triple OT on a double deflection goal by Andrew Shaw at 12:08 of the third extra session.
Boston is part of a much larger trend in the NHL, as overtime postseason games have become the norm in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Of the 81 playoff games played thus far in 2013, 25 have gone to overtime (30.9%) with a total of 30 additional periods needed to decide a winner. That currently stands as tied for the third highest number of overtime games in NHL history, with the record set in 1993 when 28 of 85 contests (32.9%) went long (with 2001 at 26 of 86 [30.2%], just behind). This year each of the 15 playoff series has featured at least one extra period, the first time that’s happened since 1958 when the playoffs consisted of just three series.
Here’s how the rate of overtimes per playoff games has increased since 2006, the first post-lockout playoff run:
It wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see the Grousbeck family sharing one or two celebratory fist bumps on September 16, the day the NHL officially locked out its players. With one less horse in the local sports derby, they might reasonably have expected an increased level of exposure and revenue for their Celtics. Though the Bruins and Celtics do not play home games on the same nights, people looking for a Boston sports fix would find one of their regular options unavailable, turning their attention to basketball in a year that might otherwise have generated only mediocre levels of buzz.
This line of thinking assumes something about the typical sports fan: that he or she is just that, a generic sports fan, as eager to consume Celtics basketball as Bruins hockey. It also assumes that he or she prioritizes sports above other methods of consuming leisure time and dollars, such that the absence of one sports choice substantially affects the other sports choices in a city.
Though the ramifications of the 2012-13 NHL lockout are as yet unclear, this assumption remains testable due to the existence of a similar natural experiment: the 2004-05 NHL lockout, which knocked out an entire season of hockey. It’s certainly plausible that NBA teams that competed with an NHL team for attention received a boost from its absence from the sports scene for a year. I set out to answer this question, examining whether those NBA teams that occupied the same city as an NHL franchise received a significant increase in fan interest—measured in attendance—from the lack of hockey during the ’04-’05 lockout.
First, I collected the attendance figures for these 16 NBA teams during the lockout year and the two seasons before and after it, calculating them as a percentage of their arenas’ total capacities. Average attendance did indeed rise during the 2004-05 season, but only slightly. And as the plot below shows, there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable difference between the NHL lockout year and the ones preceding and following it; in fact, average NBA attendance rose again in each of the next two years following the lockout.
If the return of the NHL did not once more take some fan support away from the likes of the Celtics and Pistons, the assumption that sports fans substitute nearly perfectly from one sport to another holds less traction. It might be that another reason better explains the patterns in team attendance: fans go to games that interest them, and a team that wins a lot is much more interesting than a team that loses a lot.
To test this hypothesis, I gathered the winning percentages of these 16 teams during each of the five seasons I looked at—resulting in 80 team-years—and compared them to the corresponding attendance figures I recorded previously. To determine if winning percentage was indeed a consistent predictor of attendance (plotted below, with a line of best fit), I ran a simple linear regression of the two variables.
The model revealed a reasonably strong relationship between these two. Winning percentage was a significant predictor of attendance (p-value < 0.001) and explained about a quarter of the variation in attendance (R-squared = 0.26).
This finding corroborates some of the existing literature; the same relationship has been found in baseball, for example. While my analysis is not quite as rigorous—I’m not certain that a strictly linear theory of winning percentage and attendance is entirely accurate—I think I’ve at least confirmed the basic relationship and debunked one general hand-wavy hypothesis in the process.
What most interests me about this is the idea that the fanbases of NBA and NHL franchises are more distinct than one might otherwise think. Perhaps the idea of a generic sports fan—or at least one who regularly attends games across multiple sports—is not as realistic as that of a separation between hockey fans and basketball fans.
It might also be that the generic sports fan is actually a generic entertainment fan and is just as likely to spend his money on a Celtics game as on, say, a night out at the movies. If this is true, the absence of one entertainment option (NHL hockey) would not have as pronounced of an effect on a basketball franchise, given that it still has to compete with so many other entertainment options in the city. Personally, I’m inclined to believe attendance is primarily driven by simple human nature: people will pay for excitement, of which a winning team can supply more, and more consistently.
Following a 9-0 demolition of the Calgary Flames on Jan. 5, the Bruins stood in sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the first-place New York Rangers. They looked like contenders to repeat as Stanley Cup champs. I didn’t think they could be — but then the bottom fell out. Since that game in early January, the Bruins have gone 18-18-2, dropping them to fourth in the conference with 91 points. What caused this sudden dropoff? An investigation of the Bruins’ erratic offensive output may provide the answer.
During their floundering start to the year—which I’ll define as the 3-7-0 month of October—the Bruins’ raw shot totals were not markedly different from their numbers the rest of the season; they averaged 33.4 shots a game over this period, as compared to 33.0 for the entire year.
Then came the torrid months of November and December, in which the Bruins raced back into first place in the Northeast Division behind a 21-3-1 record. They dominated on both ends of the ice, averaging 3.96 goals per game (scoring 5 or more goals 11 times) while allowing a mere 1.68 goals against. The rest of the NHL was on notice: play Boston, and prepare to get steamrolled.
We’ve seen what’s unfolded the last two months, during which the sputtering Bruins have a sub-.500 record. As of their March 19 victory over Toronto, their scoring average had dropped to 2.66 goals per game, and their opponents had outscored them by almost a half-goal per game (3.09 goals against)—a far cry from their previously dominant play.
However, the Bruins’ earlier success may have been distorted by their high even-strength shooting percentage, with which their fluctuating fortunes have trended closely. Their shot totals during November and December had not noticeably changed from their early-season slump; in fact, they had even dropped slightly, to 32.2 per game. Yet the Bruins’-even strength shooting percentage had risen all the way to 12.1 percent, up from 5.8 percent in October. For a bit of perspective, the team with the highest even-strength shooting percentage in 2010-11 was the Philadelphia Flyers, at 9.2 percent, and the league average typically hovers around 8.0 percent.During the current decline, that percentage has again dropped fairly steeply, down to 6.8 percent. The Bruins are actually getting more shots on net (33.5 per game) than in either of the previous two stretches, but they’ve found the back of the net far less often.
Interestingly, the Bruins’ shooting percentages have varied inversely with those of their opponents in each of these three time periods—in other words, as the Bruins struggled to find the net, their opponents did so comparatively easily, and vice versa. In October, Boston opponents shot a respectable 8.4 percent; in November and December, they shot just 5.1 percent; and in the present slide, 10.8 percent.
So what does this mean? One might think the Bruins were simply playing worse hockey, and maybe they were. During their rough patches, they may not have been getting the same quality shots with which they routinely racked up 5- and 6-goal games during their winning streak.
But that’s not the whole story; the change could just be the result of luck. The work of various hockey researchers has suggested that it’s much easier for teams to control the shot total of their opponents than the quality of those shots — that is, in aggregate, most shots on goal are indistinguishable in value. Since the shot totals of the Bruins and their opponents have been largely stable throughout the season, the hot and cold goal-scoring stretches can be attributed to random variation. The Bruins were due for a regression to the mean after November and December, and sure enough, they cooled off to start 2012.
Since … 2008, when a small Canadian website began recording NHL.com play-by-play data, only two teams, the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2010 Washington Capitals, have finished with shooting percentages of higher than 10 percent. Boston’s 9.8 percent shooting rate by the time they hit the White House break wasn’t just due to come down: it already was dropping.
With four wins in their last five games, the Bruins appear to have righted the ship, at least for now. Their even-strength shooting percentage for the season has returned to a reasonable 8.7 percent. And as the cream of the Eastern Conference is concentrated in the Atlantic Division (New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia), the Bruins are currently in line for a No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Still, given the improvement in the conference this year, they may need more of that shooting magic if they’re to make another deep run this playoff season.
As the old saying goes, you’d rather be lucky than good.
The Bruins could be excused for nursing a hangover following their Stanley Cup victory in June – a $150,000 bar tab would leave anyone feeling a little under the weather. But it’s getting high time to climb out of bed and take a cold shower. It’s November, boys.
Or maybe there’s something more sinister at work: are the Bruins suffering the aftereffects of the dreaded “Stanley Cup Hangover”? As the theory goes, teams that compete into the summer have difficulty returning from the physical strain and emotional exertion of fighting for a championship. This carries over into the following season, a burden ultimately keeping them out of contention for a repeat championship.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting the reality of the Stanley Cup Hangover phenomenon. After hoisting the Cup in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks floundered through much of 2011, squeaking into the playoffs as an 8th seed before their elimination in seven games by the Canucks. The NHL hasn’t had a repeat champion since the 1998 Red Wings. The two finalists from last year, the Bruins and the Canucks, haven’t met expectations during the current young season.
Do the numbers tell a similar story? Below are charts detailing the results for both Stanley Cup winners and losers since 1995, when the NHL settled on an 82-game schedule.
Over this period, Cup-winning teams suffered a dropoff of, on average, 6.67 points during the regular season, a difference amounting to between two and three seeds in the playoffs. Cup-losing teams experience a similar downturn, falling short of their results the previous year by about 7.5 points. This alone could account for a large part of the difficulty of returning to the finals: a lower seed in the postseason creates matchups against stronger teams and a lower likelihood of advancing in each round.
One interesting point to note is the high variance of results for teams that lost in the finals; their performance the following year tended to be drastically different from that of the previous year, for better or for worse. A near miss at the Stanley Cup could either be a motivating springboard to future success or a spirit-crushing defeat – something for Vancouver to keep in mind, given the Canucks’ current struggles.
It might also be that a team’s roster turnover from year to year has a lot to do with the severity of their “hangover.” Teams that stay mostly intact following a Stanley Cup victory might have an easier time bouncing back the following season. The ’10-’11 Blackhawks, gutted by free agency, would certainly bear this out; some of their struggles could be attributed to the fact that they returned a mere 55 percent of their minutes from 2010 to 2011. The Bruins, conversely, lost only three players in the offseason: Tomas Kaberle, Mark Recchi, and Michael Ryder.
However, a quick linear regression of the percentage of ice time a team returns against those teams’ changes in points from their Cup-winning year to the season after proved statistically inconclusive. In the model, only 20 percent of the variation in points could be explained by their roster turnover, in part due to the limited data. The NHL has only compiled individual player minutes since 1999.
Whether it’s appropriate to term these declines as “hangovers” is another question. A stellar regular season is a remarkable achievement in itself; making it to the Stanley Cup Finals is another thing entirely. It takes the convergence of many favorable circumstances to put together a run like the Bruins did – sufficient health, lights-out goaltending, and three Game 7 victories in one playoff season are not things you can bank on every year.
The reality may be that such success is not sustainable over a period of multiple seasons unless a team is approaching the level of dynasty, like the Red Wings in the mid- to late-‘90s, formidable on both ends of the ice. I doubt any realistic fan would put the Bruins in this category. Though they boast the league’s best goaltender in Tim Thomas, the offensive weapons in front of him, while serviceable, cannot be considered dominant. Certainly, young forwards Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, and Milan Lucic have the potential to get there in time, but at ages 20, 23, and 23 respectively, they can’t be counted on yet to carry an elite offense.
In short, Bruins fans could be in for a long, frustrating season. At 4-7-0, the Bruins have exhibited all the symptoms of the Stanley Cup Hangover, showing just how difficult it is to meet fans’ expectations after finally reaching the mountaintop. While there’s still plenty of hockey left to play, this doesn’t look like the sort of team cut out for a repeat. So cherish the Cup while you can. It may not be around much longer.
He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.