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The NHL is at an impasse. The stars are getting lazier and lazier every year, while their contracts are only getting more expensive. Journalists all over the country focus on the lack of drive from star players in the NBA, but they fail to see that the problem is significantly worse in the NHL, where star players play half of the time that star basketball players do.
Hockey players have the advantage of skate blades and a low friction surface to glide on, but they still spend less than a minute on the ice at a time. What gives? Last year, LeBron James played more than 37 minutes per game while Sidney Crosby played just over 20 minutes.
There’s only one explanation for why NHL stars don’t log that much ice time: laziness!
Advanced metrics suggest that just a decade ago, top line talent played almost 5 minutes more per game than they do today. We’re talking about players like Mario Lemieux, Alex Kovalev, Rod Brind'Amour (who led the league in average TOI for multiple seasons), etc. But the good old days are over. In fact, every year average ice time for top level forwards plummets lower and lower.
Ice skating is easy; it’s significantly less strenuous than walking or running. And given the latest skate technology and their massive contracts, average time on ice for top players in the NHL should be going up, not down.
Take, for example, Steven Stamkos. One of the faces of the modern NHL, the star Lightning forward was playing nearly 20 minutes a game leading up to the summer of 2016. What happened that summer? Stamkos got a large, generous contract extension, and his average time on ice promptly dropped nearly two minutes per game to begin the 2016-17 season, before he was injured and missed the rest of the season.
Clearly, Stamkos got fat and happy on his new contract, and couldn’t be bothered to play as much as he had in the past. It’s this type of laziness that is ruining our great sport of hockey.
Don’t believe me yet? Don’t take my word for it; the latest advanced analytics will back up my position. Take a look at this graph showing contract size versus average time on ice.
As you can see, time on ice plummets as these modern prima donnas get big fancy contracts.
NHL pundits consistently talk about the decline of scoring in the NHL. They cite more relaxed penalty calling and large goalie padding as a few key problems. What everyone fails to realize is that forwards are scoring less because they’re playing less! Ice time continues to creep down in conjunction with scoring numbers. There is the direct causation for lack of scoring.
My team and I have devised a complex metric to measure overall laziness by combining a number of advanced analytical figures. We call it Relative Laziness Factor. The calculation is much too complicated to explain here. Below is a graph representing RLF% of top NHL players dating back to 1997.
Our analytics clearly show a sharp increase in laziness in the past 20 years, further proving my point. Perhaps if NHLers would change their work ethic, the top players could finally get around to breaking those scoring records that Gretzky set back in the good old days.
NHL players are the laziest athletes in modern American sports. What happened? The league needs a complete culture overhaul. The stars need to spend less time resting unnecessarily on the bench and more time on the ice scoring sweet goals.