Bill Simmons has a theory. On his self-titled podcast last Monday, the founder and CEO of The Ringer suggested Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would have fallen short of their seventh NBA title in nine years if they ran it back for 1998-99. Under normal circumstances, maybe Jordan’s Bulls could have extended their dominance one more season. But 1998-99 was hardly routine.
“It’s a lockout season,” Simmons said on his show. “It’s 50 games in three months. It was brutal, and it really penalized the older teams.”
He makes an interesting point. When the New York Knicks faced off against the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals, 22-year-old Tim Duncan powered the latter to victory. The dominant Utah Jazz team of the 1990s, led by aging veterans John Stockton and Karl Malone, fell to the Portland Trailblazers in the second round of the ’99 playoffs. In 2011-12, a lockout caused the NBA to play another condensed season, and the youthful trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden carried the Oklahoma City Thunder to the brink of a championship with an average age of 22.7 between the three of them.
Simmons’ theory is not a universal truth – it’s mostly anecdotal – but it does raise the question of whether the same concept could carry over to the NHL. When professional hockey returns from its Covid-19 hiatus, it looks like the league will be tasked with playing its new schedule in a compressed timeframe. And while the proposed 24-team playoff format is unprecedented, the NHL has dealt with shortened seasons in its past (1994-95 and 2012-13 lockouts). Does a condensed schedule favor younger players?
“That could [be] a major advantage,” said Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. “I think it’s inevitable once you get older, you start to get a little bit more tired, or you get hurt a little bit easier. So, for our sake, Florida is a pretty young team, so I think we’ll be OK.”
And Weegar is right. The physical benefits of youth cannot be ignored. Young players are more likely to withstand the day-to-day wear and tear of the NHL season, especially under a condensed timeline. But the data disagrees.
The average age of the last 54 Stanley Cup champions is 27.21, according to SportingCharts.com. The 1994-95 New Jersey Devils and 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, both of which played…
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