The word has always been that the WCHA is an upperclassmen's league. For years common wisdom has predicted and statistics have confirmed that the teams with large junior and senior classes were the teams to succeed. The league has had it's share of "phenoms" or "one year wonders" and those great players have helped their teams succeed of course. But those players have been the exception. More often than not freshman in the WCHA require some seasoning time before they step up. But this year an early trend looks to me as if it could possibly upset the upperclassmen apple-cart. Granted that for some teams only 6 games have passed but the majority of WCHA teams have played 8 games. For this fan, one statistic specifically jumps out at me.
Of the 222 goals scored this season 112 of them have come from freshmen and sophomores. More than 50 percent? After just 8 games? What happened to the "seasoning time"? Did nobody tell these kids they're supposed to simmer for a while? Here's a team-by-team breakdown:
- DU - 23 of 25 for 92 percent
- UAA - 22 of 27 for 81 percent
- UW - 19 of 28 - for 68 percent
- SCSU- 18 of 30 for 60 percent
- MSUM - 9 of 16 for 56 percent
- UMTC - 6 of 17 for 35 percent
- CC - 4 of 16 for 25 percent
- UND - 4 of 16 for 25 percent
- MTU - 4 of 24 for 17 percent
- UND - 3 of 23 for 13 percent
- UND - 117 of 153 for 76 percent
- UMD - 73 of 103 for 70 percent
- UMTC - 105 of 161 for 65 percent
- DU - 63 of 107 for 58 percent
- MSUM - 61 of 106 for 57 percent
- UAA - 44 of 90 for 48 percent
- UW - 43 of 93 for 46 percent
- CC - 48 of 111 for 43 percent
- MTU - 41 of 90 for 42 percent
- SCSU - 46 of 127 for 36 percent
All this spurred my curiosity and so I calculated the six years. In 05-06 the league-wide average was 48 percent (599 of 1245). In 04-05 the average was 46 percent (591 of 1283). In 03-04 the average was 49 percent (680 of 1381). In 02-03 the average was 50 percent (702 of 1394). In 01-02 the average was 43 percent (591 of 1372). In 00-01 the average was 41 percent (550 of 1325). So all this indicates two trends. Scoring is declining slightly but underclassmen seem to be providing more and more of it as time goes on.
Considering all this information begins to leave me with the impression that the quality of the WCHA product could actually be declining slightly. I doubt the top three teams this season would fare very well against the top three team from 00-01 or 01-02. This is all due of course to the last NHL collective bargaining agreement. Gee thanks NHL. I'm not saying here that the WCHA is less competitive or exciting than it was 5 or 6 years ago but the trend is a concern. The NHL's new tendency to try to sign players before they've used their eligibility is slowly turning Division 1 hockey into not much more than an NHL farm system. It's disturbing. Thoughts? Should I have looked at older stats? Are my conclusions reasonable? Will the teams that succeed be the ones that can keep most of their players for 4 years?