by Mike Chen on 10/05/09 at 05:47 PM ET
Colorado wins the Stanley Cup! Detroit is the worst team ever! Alexander Ovechkin will score 200+ points!
Sweet Jebus, people, grab a pint of Newcastle and take a deep breath. The season’s less than a week old and it seems like everyone’s already making all sorts of weird proclamations about their team and/or players. The most absurd of these things had to be whether Ovechkin would break Gretzky’s scoring records this season (though the discussion of whether or not Craig Anderson would win the Hart comes in second); come on, guys, it’s only been a handful of games. There was a time in San Jose’s history when the line of Owen Nolan/Vincent Damphousse/Jeff Friesen had a combined dozen points or so in the first two games, but I don’t think Sharks fans had any delusions of Friesen scoring 150.
It’s not time to panic. It’s not time to claim a winner. Let’s just enjoy the early games, ok? In the meantime, I tend to look at December as the most critical month of the season. However, you can almost consider it like a three-strikes rule, with October, November, and December each being a potential strike—and three strikes and you’re out of the playoff picture.
So let’s take October. If your team stumbles out of the gate, well, obviously that’s not a good thing. Still, it’s a long season, and while a bad October puts you in an unenviable position, it’s nothing that a few four-game winning streaks can’t overcome. Let’s just assume that you’ve had a bad October, but you have a great November. Ok, well, then you’re essentially at .500 in December and thus in a position to succeed when the stretch run hits. So if you get that first October strike, treat it like an 0-1 count in baseball: you’d prefer not to have it, but it’s manageable.
Then comes November. If your team is still struggling (an 0-2 pitch count), there’s reason to worry but not reason to give up. By November, you’re able to identify habits and trends, and this is when roster tinkering and/or coaching changes might happen…or your team might just get its crap together. A team could struggle from the start of the season till mid-November, then find its groove and people will forget about the horrific start. Don’t jump ship just yet.
Finally, we’ve got December. There have been teams that have pulled out of three-month poor starts before, but they’re rare and it often takes a miraculous feat of winning games and other teams losing particular games. If you’ve got two strikes, then December is the point of no return. I subscribe to the philosophy that if you’re not .500 (that is, .500 by the twisted NHL standard) by Christmas, then you’re essentially out of the playoff picture; better start hoping for a lottery pick. In other words, three strikes and you’re out.
Of course, things go both ways. Don’t forget about how the Ottawa Senators of a few years ago were being discussed in Canada as the “best team ever” because of their fast start, only to see things derail in the second half of the season. Last year’s Penguins also give us a good example that anything could happen.
It’s a long season. Enjoy the ride, ok?
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