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How meaningless is preseason hockey? Very! And I can prove it

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Do not read this article. It’s bad.

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason sports suck. Only the most degenerate of sports fans even notice the game are happening. And only the most irredeemably lost among those degenerate fans willfully watch the games. Every year I think, “Great! The preseason is here. Can’t wait to see how the prospects look.” And every year while watching the fifth preseason game on a stream that’s 45 minutes behind the actual game and misses goals because the scoreboard was showing a mascot shoot itself in the crotch with a t-shirt cannon, I have an existential crisis.

Being an extremely normal and healthy individual, I channeled this crisis energy into answering the dumbest question I’ve ever asked myself: Just how meaningless is preseason hockey? In most cases, this is where the author of this kind of article will say, “The answer might surprise you!” Except in this case, it won’t. It will only confirm your worst suspicion. The haunting thought that dampens your excitement for every AAAA player who Just Needs A Chance. The preseason doesn’t matter. And not only does it not matter. But it not-matters in hockey even more than it not-matters in other sports.

To answer this dumbass question, I spent several hours of my life collecting, cleaning, and analyzing preseason and regular season data going back to 2002 for the four major North American sports. The data comes from ESPN who for some reason keeps preseason results going back that far. I’m not sure why they do that. But I’m glad they do because now I can write this stupid article.

The approach I’ve taken is to measure the correlation between preseason score share and regular season score share. In hockey terms, this is goal share. In the other sports, I’ve used whatever the point system is and calculated score share the same way we calculate goal share in hockey. In basketball, if a team outscores their opponents 500-400 over some number of games, that’s a 56% score share. In baseball, if a team outscores their opponents 30-20 over some number of games, that’s a 60% score share. Cool? Cool.

The charts below show the relationship between preseason and regular season score share for all four sports. The correlation value is included in the header. In this context, the smaller the r value, the weaker the relationship. And in terms of evaluating how good a team is based on their preseason results, the weaker the relationship the more meaningless the preseason is.

The NHL preseason being the least meaningful of a collection of meaningless preseasons is satisfying. I take comfort knowing that of all the dumb sports fans who get sucked into watching preseason games, I am among the dumbest. I watch the most meaningless thing in all of the four major North American sports. I am the champion of wasting my time on sports and I proudly share that belt with everyone else who watches preseason hockey. We are the elite. Stand in awe of our disrespect toward the value of our own time.

If we want to get a little more into the weeds on this (and why wouldn’t we? We’ve already gone this far), another way to think about this and perhaps the more intuitive way is in winning percentage. The reason I didn’t do that is because the NFL plays so many fewer games than the other sports. If we use winning percentage, the NFL becomes the most meaningless and NHL is bumped to 3rd. But I think the sample size is the primary reason for that and besides, this whole article is idiotic, and I want the NHL to win this race to the bottom, so we’re using score share and that’s that.

To get an understanding of just how meaningless the preseason is, the correlation between score share in the first 10 games of the NHL season and the rest of the season is 0.29. For the first 20 games, that value is 0.41. So in a sport where current outcomes are already terrible at predicting future outcomes, the preseason is worse by a full third. I didn’t calculate this relationship for the other sports because I don’t know where to get the data and I already wasted enough time answering a question only a moron would ask in the first place.

In conclusion, I am an imbecile and this was an absurd waste of time. I hope no one reads this article because it reflects poorly on me and the choices I make both as an analyst and a person. Thank goodness real hockey starts in a couple days so I can get back to wasting my time in a more respectable way.

[Just so you know I bought Alan a virtual beer after reading this and told him to go comb his goats or whatever he does to relax. - Acha]