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How many players will never return to the NHL?

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

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)

Dan Bylsma

Garrett Burnett

Lance Ward

Petr Schastlivy

Chris Tamer

Bill Lindsay

Pasi Nurminen

Byron Dafoe

Ted Donato

Rob Zamuner

Michal Grosek

P.J. Stock

Felix Potvin

Chris Taylor

James Patrick

Jason Botterill

Brad Brown

Dave Lowry

Roman Turek

Arturs Irbe

Jamie Storr

Igor Korolev

Igor Radulov

Burke Henry

Steve Passmore

Andrei Nikolishin

Steve Moore

Dan Hinote

Travis Brigley

Jim Cummins

Riku Hahl

Tommy Salo

Brian Holzinger

Espen Knutsen

Scott Lachance

Kent Mcdonell

David Ling

Fred Brathwaite

Valeri Bure

Don Sweeney

Shayne Corson

Lubomir Sekeras

Blake Sloan

Ron Tugnutt

Steve Thomas

Kevin Miller

Adam Oates

Donald Audette

Pavel Trnka

Vaclav Nedorost

Eric Beaudoin

Eric Messier

Denis Shvidki

Trent Klatt

Zigmund Palffy

Esa Pirnes

Brad Chartrand

Jason Holland

John Tripp

Milan Hnilicka

Christoph Brandner

Matt Johnson

Joe Juneau

Andreas Dackell

Gordie Dwyer

Karl Dykhuis

Sergei Zholtok

Jim Mckenzie

Brad Bombardir

Robert Schnabel

Stan Neckar

Scott Stevens

Igor Larionov

Craig Darby

Corey Schwab

Kenny Jonsson

Cliff Ronning

Eric Manlow

Steve Webb

Mark Messier

Boris Mironov

Sandy McCarthy

Mike Green

Dale Purinton

Chris McAllister

Shaun van Allen

Rob Ray

Jody Hull

Marcus Ragnarsson

Radovan Somik

Claude Lapointe

John Slaney

Jeff Hackett

Ivan Novoseltsev

Todd Reirden

Aleksey Morozov

Milan Kraft

Mike Eastwood

Martin Strbak

Kelly Buchberger

Steve McKenna

Reid Simpson

J-S Aubin

Mike Danton

Murray Baron

Al MacInnis

Jeff Finley

Scott Pellerin

Aris Brimanis

Vincent Damphousse

Shane Willis

Darren Rumble

Ron Francis

Robert Reichel

Mikael Renberg

Karel Pilar

Calle Johansson

Trevor Kidd

Artem Chubarov

Mike Keane

Marc Bergevin

Sean Pronger

Kip Miller

Craig Johnson

Jason Doig

Rick Berry

Todd Rohloff

John Gruden

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2012 issue of The Hockey News magazine.

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