Digging into rookies playoff lists so far, something seemed…off. I was admiring a few performances (mainly Heiskanen’s TOI numbers), but the list of 20 NHL rookies who have played so far seemed a little too short, so I’ve looked back over the last decade to compare:
2018-19 (so far): 20
First – a few obvious disclaimers concerning 2018-19:
- We’re only a few games in. Lineups are not set in stone, and there will absolutely be some subs coming in on teams that are losing and getting desperate. This could increase the total.
- Injuries will happen, which could also increase the total should the subs be rookies.
- Gusev is poised to join Vegas and Makar is reportedly close to signing with the Avalanche, so the total could become 22 very soon.
However, these disclaimers come with some basic math behind them:
- If every losing team makes one roster change (big assumption), AND every one of those insertions is a rookie (bigger assumption) – that would increase the total to 28. Still the lowest in recent memory by a longshot.
- If we assume every team in the second round suffers one injury (big assumption), AND every subsequent insertion is a rookie (bigger assumption) – that would only add another 8 rookies to the total.
So, based on these generous assumptions, the most rookies we could see is around 30-35 (but its more likely to be lower). Essentially, starting in Round 2, every remaining team would need to find a way to get 3 additional rookies into the lineup.
Why is this number so low? The last post-season to have a total close to this low was 2003-04, which featured 28 newbies. 2002-03 and 2001-02 both had a total of 30. So unless drastic injuries and substitutions occur, this playoffs will have less rookie representation the before the lockout.
Potential explanation #1: Are there fewer rookies in the league to start out with?
Maybe this is just a case of proportional representation? According to NHL.com, the total number of rookies to suit up in at least 1 game this year was 207.
In 2017-18: 205
In 2016-17: 235
In 2015-16: 226
There doesn’t seem to be significant variation here, especially not since last season.
Potential explanation #2: Are there fewer quality rookies in the league to start with?
Taking this one step further – I limited the search only to players who played at least 5 games (eliminating the brief emergency players every team sees occasionally).
Still nothing jumps out at me. What if we increase the threshold is 20 games played:
Still nothing obvious of interest.
One more – this is the total of rookies to play 20+ games and score 20+ points (regular season):
Here we go, finally something useful. Between last season and this one, the league saw a huge dip in what I’ll call “quality rookies”. 20+ games played and 20+ points would probably get a player into the post-season lineup on their squad, so it seems very possible that this total number is directly correlated to the total number we see currently in the ongoing playoffs. But why did this drop happen? I’ll have to dig into this next week… This seems a like a logical path to investigate as the source of the problem, but empirical data tells us its not the only factor here. Last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitols,