Playing 'Loose'? Does It Exist?

I think their streak was loosey cause they all called 'em loose. I think I thought I seen 'em on 8th and forty-deuce.

"They're playing with no pressure", "they have nothing to lose", we've heard them all as explanations for the Islanders resurgence after a first half that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Statements like this are pretty difficult to quantify.  While the aforementioned quotes may have been a convenient meme for pundits and coaches who wanted to dismiss a "floundering" or "lowly" franchise's win against the team they coach or cover, many of today's champions come from a place of economic and statistical despair with fits and starts in their infancy...and lived to tell about it.  The quotes are attempts at sports psychology that doesn't match the narrative.  Who would have more pressure than the athlete who is not winning or the franchise that makes mistakes?  And what about that pressure?  Come on, most of these players have been a focal point of their junior teams, towns, the media and even their countries since forever.  Do we really think losing and being out of the playoffs makes them "loose" and all of a sudden, now they can play?

What cannot be argued is that you can only play who is on your schedule...and that most professional athletes (young or not) either have a desire to;  win, develop their craft,  meet expectations, play for their pride, teammates or for contracts.  Is there a pattern of play for rebuilding teams?  Do they play better after playoff elimination or when pressure decreases?  Is there a point in the season where they "gel" or "come/grow together as a team"?

After the jump, a comparison of the Islanders rebuilding years as opposed to the Pens and Hawks, with a focus on  the 2nd half performances of all three clubs.

The comparison tables cover a "five year rebuild" period covering different years for each team.  Each table includes the season before each team first played their rookie "franchise player";  respectively, the Penguins 2003-'04  (Sidney Crosby 2005), the Blackhawks 2006-'07 (Jonathan Toews 2007), and the Islanders 2008-'09 (John Tavares 2009).  The tables follow for the next four years with the exception of the Islanders (because Tavares is entering his third year). 

 

In the March /April statistical section we look at the team's late season "looseness" factor...the percentage of their seasonal wins and points that came in March/April as compared to their percentage of games played in that period, and "Man Games Lost to Injury" in the early years (when available) with credit to James Mirtle for compiling these data.

Penguins:Playoffs '06-07, Stanley Cup appearance '07-08, Cup win '08-'09

 

Full Season

 

 

March/April Stats

 

Year

Record

Pts

Record

% Wins

Pts

% Gms

% Pts

MGL

03--'04

23-47-8-4

58

10-4-3

43.4

23

20.7

39.6

 

05-'06

22-46-14

58

8-12-3

36.3

19

28

32.7

308

06-'07

47-24-11

105

14-4-2

29.7

30

24.3

28.5

216

07-08

47-27-8

102

11-5-1

23.4

23

20.7

22.5

280

08-'09

45-28-9

99

14-2-3

31.1

31

23.1

31.3

274

 

Blackhawks: Playoffs '08-09, Stanley Cup win '09-'10

 

Full Season

 

 

March/April Stats

 

Year

Record

Pts

Record

% Wins

Pts

% Gms

% Pts

MGL

06-'07

31-42-9

71

8-11-0

25.8

16

23.1

22.5

350

07-'08

40-34-8

88

10-6-2

25

22

21.9

25

357

08-'09

46-24-12

104

12-7-3

26

27

26.8

25.9

172

09-'10

52-22-8

112

11-7-3

21.1

25

26.8

22.3

 

10-'11

44-28-9

97

10-6-3

22.7

23

23.1

23.7

127

 

Islanders: Grr, nothing yet.

 

Full Season

 

 

March/April Stats

 

Year

Record

Pts

Record

% Wins

Pts

% Gms

% Pts

MGL

08-'09

26-47-9

61

8-10-2

30.7

18

24.3

29.5

551

09-'10

34-37-11

79

9-8-3

26.4

21

24.3

26.5

250

10-'11

30-39-13

73

7-7-5

23.3

19

23.1

26

610

 

Feb

8-5-1

26.6

17

18.2

23.2

 

 

F/M/A Total

15-12-6

50

36

40.2

49.3

 

 

In the case of the Penguins, they have a significantly higher percentage of total points and wins vs percentage of games in March and April during their "terrible" years.  The Isles have a slightly higher percentage of total points and wins vs percentage of games in March and April, while the Blackhawks exhibit minimal statistical differences (and actually at times are equal to or below their percentage of games played.)

Some things that the data show:

  • Each of the teams' looseness 'wins' factor seemed to be very significant in the year prior to their  franchise player's first full season.
  • The Pens had such low win totals in their rebuild years that their March/April percentages were more prone to large jumps.
  • Even with what was considered, at the time, "a hot streak because they're loose", the data doesn't appear significant enough to say that once eliminated from the playoffs, the team played differently.

The first thing that jumped out to me is that the Penguins and the Blackhawks both made tremendous jumps in wins/points in their "franchise player's" 2nd year.  This also happens to coincide with a significant decrease in man games lost to injury in that year (Pens -92, Hawks -185).  As we know, the Islanders had a tremendous increase in MGL(+360) in that 2nd year and subsequently a decrease in wins/points.

What was noticeable in looking at the raw data is that all three of the teams engaged in some very streaky play during the March/April time period, [Hawks '07-'08]  [Penguins '05-'06]  [Isles '09-10] which resulted in a great deal of their points/wins, but throughout the entire period their points were not statistically significant in relation to their games played.  The teams regressed toward their seasonal performance rate.

What this says to me is that young teams tend to have young talent that is very susceptible to luck, inconsistency, team health and scheduling which is quite variable and volatile (in small samples) within a full season.  Over the following years, as the teams develop their players, acquire depth and stay healthier, their overall season points totals increase, but at a relatively consistent pace throughout full seasons once sample size is increased past some sort of 'intangible' playoff elimination narrative or arbitrary point a pundit may give during a season.


Looseness may not be as much of a factor as youth, consistency and health in a team's performance, and even when teams do go on a run, it is short lived and they tend to level off toward their mean.

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