Predictors of Performance in the National Hockey League

By Voyer, Daniel; Wright, Edward F. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Predictors of Performance in the National Hockey League


Voyer, Daniel, Wright, Edward F., Journal of Sport Behavior


Over the past three decades, interest in the sport of ice hockey has grown at a substantial rate, Evidence of this phenomenon is ubiquitous: the National Hockey League (NHL) - the universally acknowledged top professional league in the world (Fischler & Fischler, 1994) - has grown from 6 teams in 1967 to 26 teams in 1994; league-wide attendance has increased regularly over this time period, growing from an average of 11,122 per game in 1967 to an average of 15,978 per game in 1993 (NHL, 1994); new lucrative television contracts have been arranged throughout the U.S.; a new Hockey Hall of Fame building in Toronto has attracted huge numbers of visitors; and, a World Cup of hockey was contested for the first time in August, 1996. This growing enthusiasm can be attributed to a number of factors: the success of the 1980 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team, Canada's outstanding performance in international junior and professional tournaments, and the consistently spectacular play of superstars such as Bobby Orr, Viacheslav Tretiak, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux.

The number of books devoted to hockey has also grown over the past few decades (Fischler & Fischler, 1994), as has the number of scientific publications related to the sport. To illustrate this point, a CD-ROM Psyc-Lit count of hockey-related articles in academic journals during the six years period from January 1990 to December 1995 revealed 42 listings, for an average of 7 articles per year, compared to 65 hockey-related articles in the 16 years period from January 1974 to December 1989, representing an average of 4.1 articles per year. Even though this difference cannot be tested for statistical significance, it suggests that scientific interest in hockey has grown in the last few years. The published articles run the gamut from explorations concerning the disadvantage of playing decisive playoff games in the presence of a supportive or "home" audience (Wright, Voyer, Wright, & Roney, 1995) to the impact of wearing dark-colored uniforms on the likelihood of drawing penalties (Frank & Gilovich, 1988). However, there is no retrievable literature concerning factors that predict performance in professional hockey. This is surprising given the great public interest in this issue (evidenced by the NHL's policy of televising the draft of entry level players), and the substantial expense incurred by both the NHL Head Office and the individual teams for scouting. It is one purpose of the present study to identify factors predicting performance in the NHL.

Despite the absence of research on this issue, members of the hockey community have developed implicit theories concerning factors that likely predict performance in elite hockey. For example, Canadian hockey broadcasters have long touted the advantages of size (despite such notable anomalies as Howie Morenz, Wayne Gretzky, Henri Richard, and, more recently, Theoren Fleury); willingness to play tough, physical hockey; and junior point production, especially in key games. A second purpose of the current study is to test these specific hypotheses. A regression analysis using points per game production in both NHL regular season and playoff as dependent variables was conducted to test these hypotheses. Several predictor variables, including draft rank, were used in this investigation. The inclusion of this variable concerns the third purpose of the present study, that is, to gauge the validity of criteria that are used to guide draft selections.

In summary, there are three related purposes to the present study. The first purpose encompasses the next two and concerns the identification of factors predicting performance in the NHL. The second purpose of the present study is to test hypotheses concerning the importance of size (as assessed by height and weight), willingness to play tough, physical hockey (as measured by penalty minutes), and junior point production, especially in key games (as determined by regular season and playoff point production in junior play). …

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