Books can be written about the collateral damage caused by the NHL work stoppage. But one vein seldom discussed is that about 100 regulars from 2011-12 will never again play in the NHL if 2012-13 is lost to lockout.
Some will be among those standing in solidarity behind NHL Players’ Association boss Donald Fehr as he addresses the media. They’ll have sacrificed their 2012-13 salary in the name of remaining unified only to be transferred to the retired players category of the NHL Guide and Record Book.
Here’s what we know from the previous lockout. In 2003-04, there were 1,010 players with at least one game played. Research shows 240 of them (23.8 percent) never played another game in the NHL after the lockout was settled. About half were bit players (114 skaters with 20 or fewer games). Among the rest were aging vets on the cusp of retirement – Scott Stevens, Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Adam Oates.
The number 240 sounds like a lot, but it’s largely natural turnover yearly. How does this compare to any given season? We took 2008-09 as a random example. There were 974 players who played at least one game in the NHL. Of those, 138 (or 14.2 percent) never played another game in the NHL. The bulk of natural turnover are cup-of-coffee guys who play a few games, but never make it back again. A much smaller number are guys who retire or return to Europe.
So what does this mean? The percentage was higher in the season before the lockout (23.8 percent) because an extra 12 months expired, meaning another wave of players slipped into retirement. But here’s the kicker: there wasn’t that large segment of the cup-of-coffee guys because there were no games. Why did the number increase by almost 100? We can speculate a certain percentage of players who didn’t play during the lockout lost their edge and couldn’t regain it competing against a younger class of graduating junior and American Leaguers.
How can we extrapolate this if 2012-13 is lost to a lockout?
In 2011-12, there were 983 players who played at least one game in the NHL. Because of natural turnover, we can project 14.2 percent of them (139 players) won’t play again in the NHL. No big deal, it happens every season. But using the 2004-05 lockout as a case study, we can predict another 9.6 percent (the difference between 23.8 percent and 14.2) or 95 more players – like 38-year-old Sergei Gonchar in the last year of a big contract – won’t be back for 2013-14.
An allowance must be made for the fact new rules enforcement steered some players away from returning in 2005-06. And the salary cap cost some vets their jobs at the expense of younger, less costly talent. Also, it’s a safe assumption most top-six forwards and top-four ‘D’ will be immune from this projected hike in job turnover when the NHL does return to action.
LIST OF ESTABLISHED GUYS WHO DIDN’T RETURN AFTER 2004-05 LOCKOUT (list doesn’t include unestablished players who played fewer than 20 games in 2003-04)
Shaun van Allen
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2012 issue of The Hockey News magazine.