Monday, March 12, 2012

Playing out the string


There's a point in the season when a team has to realize that they're out of the playoff hunt, that the last glimmer of hope for post-season success is extinguished.  For those not paying super-close attention, Puck Daddy hit us square on the head with the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets were eliminated from playoff contention today.

Outside of that final nail in the coffin, there are other points at which a team might need to take a good, hard look at itself.  From my limited experience in following NHL hockey, perhaps the most common threshold where the pretenders are separated from the contenders is the NHL trade deadline.

The joy of playing out the string.  Are you ready to renew for next season?
This is an obviously awkward time for a professional team that isn't cutting it at the trade deadline.  Rather than aggressively add talent as "buyers," they're relegated to the "seller" position - dumping players whom they don't want to re-sign or play with in the following season in order to gain tools (players, picks) to facilitate a competitive team in seasons to come.  They have to continue to sell tickets in the current season and market ticket package renewals for the upcoming season, however, knowing that the season will end with game 82.  So they're playing out the string...and selling hope for next season along the way.  You know, so people will stick with them.

Legend has it that teams that play out the string successfully (as in a winning record) translate that into a successful following season.  Sadly, this legend hasn't proven true in the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets since the lockout:
  • The 2006 string: 11-7-2
    • 2006-07 record: 33-42-7
  • The 2007 string: 9-10-0
    • 2007-08 record: 34-36-12
  • The 2008 string: 5-10-3
    • 2008-09 record: 41-31-10
  • The 2009 string (not counting the 0-4-0 playoff record): 9-5-4
    • 2009-10 record: 32-35-15
  • The 2010 string: 7-7-4
    • 2010-11 record: 34-35-13
  • The 2011 string: 3-10-7
    • 2011-12 record (as of 3/9/12): 22-38-7
(Special thanks to @En4Cer45 for jump-starting my trade deadline research.)

As you can see, the Blue Jackets have had two strings with winning records - 2006 and 2009 (2009, of course, really doesn't count as a "string" because the team was playoff-bound.).  Both seasons were followed by seasons with losing records.  And interestingly, the disappointing 5-10-3 string of 2008 was followed by the Blue Jackets' only playoff appearance.  Thus, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that as it relates to the Blue Jackets, their performance between the end of the trade deadline and the end of the regular season doesn't seem to have any bearing whatsoever on the team's performance the following year.

I make that point to make this much more important one: Because of the historical irrelevance of the post-trade deadline games to successive season performance, it's important to find other value in these "garbage time" games.  Considering the Blue Jackets desire to rebuild reshape the roster, the value of these games is in taking advantage of real-life game situations not just to win games but rather to jump-start the new season in earnest.

How would a team do that?  I'm no expert, but logic suggests that real-life game situations could help a team:
  • Audition prospects and/or waiver wire pickups
  • Adjust forward line and defensive pairing combinations to explore new means to make the team more productive
  • Provide a platform for new leadership to emerge
  • Reshuffle the roster to de-emphasize players not projected to return and emphasize those whose contributions will be critical next season.
When the winning really counts during the string, in my opinion, is when your team can win while accomplishing the types of objectives listed above.  That means the rebuild/retool/reshape/whatever you want to call it is on.

2 comments:

  1. Not necessarily a bad idea, but considering the anything may go policy that we have been fed, how do we know which pieces for sure will not be back? Craig Patrick said that Nash may not go, we don't know if brass, or RJ will be back with us, or for sure which D-men we will have. So how do we know what to experiment with and what to stick with. If Nash is leaving, is it fair to let other players develop leadership or should we wait until we know what pieces come in in case the true leader is coming in? Right now there are just so many unknowns that I am not convinced that there is a right or wrong way to approach the string.

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    1. Megan, I'm guessing that the team has a general idea of what they want to get done in the off-season. Or, perhaps better stated, I'm praying that they do. ;-)

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