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Myth of the career-ending NHL lockout

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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"If this goes on for a year or two then I'm probably done and I have to go back to working for a living."Shawn Thornton, Boston Bruins

The last time Gary Bettman turned the keys and locked out the National Hockey League's players, it marked the last time Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Adam Oates and Ron Francis played professionally.

They retired, as did others. The lockout "stole" their victory laps from us. As Ron Tugnutt told the Columbus Dispatch:

"Some of those guys — Messier, Francis (and) MacInnis, for sure — were players worthy of a farewell tour," said former Blue Jackets goaltender Ron Tugnutt, whose career also ended with the lockout. "It's pretty sad when the guys the league should be celebrating are allowed to walk off into the sunset without so much as a standing ovation across the league."

In the current work stoppage, there's similar concern that a wiped-out season means a forced finale for elite players like Daniel Alfredsson and Teemu Selanne (noooooo!) and role players like Thornton and Matt Cullen.

As Brian Rolston, veteran of three lockouts, told the Star-Tribune:

"I'm realistic. I'll be 40 years old," Rolston said. "If there's half a season, maybe somebody will be willing to sign an older player. But I'm not holding my breath. I'm content if I have to retire."

The lockout is thus seen as a Great Purge in the NHL, as veteran players lose their desire to press on after sitting out a year, clearing the way for younger and cheaper talent to better fit under the financial restrictions of a new CBA.

But is the mass exodus of players from the NHL because of a work stoppage actually a myth, compared the typical rate of attrition?

Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal had a fantastic post on Cult of Hockey that examined the actual attrition rate for NHL players during a decade — including the 2004-05 lockout that basically ended a few Hall of Fame classes' careers.

First, a word about methodology:

I used a filter of 10 GP being suggestive of a somewhat meaningful player, with the additional age filter to try to crudely identify veterans at risk. On its own, the modest 10 GP filter reduced the number of departing players after 2003-04 by nearly 100. A lot of these numbers are, simply put, bit players enjoying brief cups of coffee. The "200 players" — which one would-be expert breathlessly calculated "that's a third of the league!" — is to a substantial degree, a mirage.

So what did McCurdy discover? This:

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The mid-decade period that spanned the lockout saw the lowest number of players leave the NHL than in any other interval. From McCurdy:

… there is virtually nothing left to suggest the lockout had any effect on the long-term attrition pattern on players leaving the NHL. The big peak referenced by the Mike Keenans of the world can almost entirely be accounted for by the laws of distribution surrounding the catastrophe of the lost season. Parsed sensibly over the longer term, the attrition rate was pretty much consistent throughout the entire decade.

Much more here from Cult of Hockey.

One note about that spike in attrition from 2005-07: New rules.

How many players were literally played out of the NHL under 2.0 rules that emphasized speed and criminalized (at least at first) obstruction?

Without similar rules changes after this lockout, one expects we won't see the same spike in the next two years.

Well, assuming we're playing again in the next two years. Mediation!

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