The lockout effect
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - During my childhood, my grandparents would always marvel at how much I had grown since the last time we had seen each other.

"They grow up so fast," I would always hear.

That's how I feel about this NHL season.

The 2013 NHL season began 16 days ago and in that time, we've already seen 122 games. That leaves us with 598 games to go over the next 82 calendar days.

Think about it. The season's just two weeks old and we've already completed 17 percent (16.9 if you want to get technical) of the schedule.

As mind-boggling as that sounds, this has almost become a rite of passage for the NHL, the most embattled of America's four major sports leagues. The 2013 season (officially the 2012-13 season, though no games were played in 2012) is the third lockout-shortened season the league has endured in the last 22 years.

Aside from the NHL, only the NBA has had more than one season disrupted by a labor dispute over that span (1999-00 and 2011-12). And that doesn't even include the 2004-05 NHL season, which was lost in its entirety.

Obviously, a lockout-shortened season is much different than a typical season. The preseason is usually abbreviated (this year it was nonexistent) and the condensed schedule can impact players in a number of different ways.

Rust, fatigue and unfamiliarity are all factors that can affect players during a shortened season like the one we're in right now.

Yet, inexplicably, this season hasn't been much different from the one we saw a year ago. At least so far.

Through 122 games, teams are scoring at a rate of 2.75 goals per game. That's only a .09 goals per game increase from last season (2.66). The 3.2 percent rise in scoring is barely noticeable.

That's actually a bit of an anomaly. The last two lockouts we've seen both had a major impact on scoring. Take a look.

Goals per game before the lockout

1993-1994: 3.24

2003-04: 2.57

Goals per game after the lockout

1994-95: 2.99 (7.7 percent decrease)

2005-06: 3.03 (17.9 percent increase)

It seems like the NHL needs to make up its mind. During the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign, we saw a major scoring decrease, while just the opposite occurred after the 2004-05 lockout.

Of course in 2004-05, that was by design. The league thought more goals would increase television ratings, which is why the NHL reduced the size of goalie equipment by 11 percent, among other rule changes.

Looking at the pre- and post-lockout stats from 1991-92's labor dispute makes this predicament even more complicated:

1990-91 (before the lockout): 3.46 goals per game

1991-92 (lockout-shortened season): 3.48 goals per game (0.6 percent increase)

Just like what we've seen this season, the lockout-shortened 1991-92 campaign was no different than the one played a year earlier.

You'd think after four lockouts, we'd have some kind of clue as to how the following season might turn out.

But for whatever reason, we don't. All the stats we have on the matter just seem random.

To me, the scenario we're seeing this season makes the most sense.

Goalies who haven't played all season usually struggle out of the gate because they're rusty. Theoretically, that would lead to more goals.

Of course, that's assuming the forwards and defensemen aren't just as rusty, which is a terrible assumption. So in reality, it all cancels out. Rust here, rust there. It doesn't matter. It should all be about the same.

Another reason I don't think rust has been much of a factor this season is because, simply put, most of the players aren't that rusty. Half the league migrated to Europe during the lockout. Sure, the style of play is a bit different over there, but it's still hockey, isn't it?

If there's one major shift we've seen this season it's that defensemen are getting more involved in the offense than they have in years past.

Defensemen have accounted for 113 of the 670 goals we've seen in 2013 (16.9 percent). That's a huge increase from what we saw in 2011-12. Blue-liners were responsible for only 14.2 percent of the total goals scored last season.

According to QuantHockey.com, we haven't seen defensemen score at this rate, at least percentage-wise, since 1928-29 (responsible for 18.8 percent of goals scored).

That's an article for another day. The point is, the lockout hasn't had much of an impact on scoring up to this point.

That doesn't mean fatigue from the condensed schedule won't come in to play later on. But for now, things are ... well, pretty much normal.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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