Monday, November 05, 2007

Disturbing Trend in the WCHA?

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
The biggest effect of this youth trend are being seen primarily at 4 schools and like any good bell curve there are 4 schools on the other end of the spectrum. But more than 50% league-wide? Is that really out of line? I calculated last season for comparisons sake:
  • 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
The season totals were 641 of 1147 for 56 percent. Well that certainly didn't confirm the "wow" factor in my mind for this year. Of course it's still early and I'd imagine that plenty of youngsters will begin contributing more as the season goes on.

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?


Kris said...

You might have wanted to look at games played for the underclassmen as well as upperclassmen. You sort of touch on this at the end with the NHL, but to see the difference in early departures and how much of the load is being forced on the younger players.

It also just might mean that we are getting better talent in the conference. I think that this might be the case, as we have seen a plethora of first round picks taking it to the NCAA instead of CHL. It is becoming more and more recognized that the NCAA can allow you to make it to the NHL without a hickup. So the talent is coming in more and more (theoretically) and is leaving early to get that NHL career going on. It might be a problem as mentioned, do we really want college hockey to be like college basketball and just a stepping stone for the pros? Why not give the scholarships to a kid who wants and education instead of one just wanting to hit the pros?

Donald Dunlop said...

You're right. There are more metrics than just goals scored that would affect any conclusion. I started the post with a premise expecting to find (or at least sniff a trend) that this year's freshman would turn out to be the best overall rookies the WCHA has seen. The whole thing grew into an addition and division frenzy and while I'm certainly capable of doing additional "sipherun"; it's not the most interesting thing to do.

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