Sports fans love numbers, especially magic numbers, carved from the granite of tradition.
A fifty-goal season still holds a special place in hockey, nearly seven decades after the iconic Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard scored 50 goals in a 50-game season for the 1944-45 Montreal Canadiens.
Football has its 1,000-yard men at receiver and running back (and rare 2,000-yard rushers like Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings).
In baseball, 60 home runs in a season once meant the world to seamheads who cherished Babe Ruth’s record, hated Roger Maris for breaking it, then saw the number rendered meaningless, obliterated during the steroid era.
Hoops gave us Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game (for the moment, we will forego discussion of Wilt’s personal off-court score of 20,000 female conquests – his published estimate).
So, how do hockey fans relate to the numbers of excellence about to be generated in a spurious 48-game season, expected to begin on Jan. 19?
Had time permitted a 50-game schedule there was at least the rare chance to watch a Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby pursue a 50-in-50 attempt, at long odds. But 48 games?
Forty-eight is nothing except four dozen eggs or a middle-aged fan fretting about approaching the age of 50.
Chalk up traditional hockey numbers as just another sad victim of the lockout.
Forty-eight is not even an easy relation to the usual 82-game NHL season. Admittedly, 82 is a strange enough number, part of the GP (Games Played) evolution from hockey’s first NHL season of 1917-18. Since that time, games in a season have danced from 22 to 24, 30, 36, 44, and yes, 48.
Oddly enough, the league could argue (to deaf ears) that it is revisiting a period in NHL history when 48 games was the norm – from 1931-32 to 1941-42.
From there it grew to 50, 60, 70, 74, 76, 78, 80, 84, before settling at 82 games from 1995-96 to the present day.
The 48/82 fraction, if you’re scoring at home, computes to .585 of a regular season, more than half a regular season and less than two-thirds. In other words, it takes enough of a whack out of the typical October-April marathon to put the boots to the kind of individual scoring and team totals to which fans relate.
In the pending ’13 NHL campaign, forget about witnessing a 100-point season by Crosby, Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin or the Senators Erik Karlsson. The new magic number equivalent of 100 points in 82 games is roughly 58 points in 48 games, which really isn’t magical at all.
A fifty goal season? In a 48-game sked, the equivalent is 29.2 goals. I suppose we could round it off to 30, and the point total to 60, to make those the new standards of excellence for individual production.
The year 1995, the last time messrs. Bettman and the Players Association settled on a 48-game season, provides a handy guide for what to expect from this year’s late January-late April campaign.
Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins played in all 48 games in 1995, led the NHL in scoring with 32 goals and was tied for the points lead with Eric Lindros at 70.
Over a full 82 games, that projected to 55 goals and 119 points, but then Jagr was simply warming up. In the next full season of 1995-96, Jagr produced 62 goals and 149 points, second only to his teammate Mario Lemieux, with 69 goals and 161 points.
Fans used to knowing that their team will need at least 92-96 points to qualify for a playoff berth will also be navigating with a skewed compass.
The Ottawa Senators finished 8th in the Eastern Conference with 92 points last season. That would equate to nearly 54 points in a 48-game schedule.
The Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings secured the final playoff berth in the west with 95 points in 2011-12. That’s a little more than 55 points in the reduced format.
Let’s just assume teams will need to be well into the 50s to be a playoff club.
In the ’95 season, 65 points represented the cream of the Eastern Conference crop – the Quebec Nordiques! (May they return for many full seasons to come).
In the West, the Detroit Red Wings led the rest with 70, while the Dallas Stars managed to eke into the postseason with a mere 42 points.
As for all the hyperventilating recently that in a short season teams can’t afford either:
a) a slow start out of the gate or b) prolonged slumps, I liked the tweet by Dave Lozo regarding the Devils of 1995. On their way to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the Devils were under .500 after 31 games (12-13-6). So much for falling out of contention early on.
With a modest final regular season record of 22-18-8, the Devils finished in 5th place in the East, knocked off fourth-place Boston in five games, took third-place Pittsburgh in five, then needed six games to beat Philadelphia before stunning the Red Wings in a four-game sweep to win the Cup.
A nice bit of work by a 52-point team after 48 games.