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The Hangover, Part 75

Let's not dance around the point: a matter of months after knocking off three of the league's top teams on the way to winning the Four Star Cup, the Detroit Falcons have looked rough starting their championship defense. The team that scrapped with Quebec City for much of season 74 is currently lingering in 10th, having started their season dropping five of their first six games and being phenomenally unlucky in the process, and it seems the ability of the squad to weather the loss of five core pieces was rather overblown. In particular, Metzler Trophy nominee Simo Jaaskelainen has looked horribly out of his depth, thrust onto the first pairing thanks to the surprise loss of Mephistopheles Morgonstjarna, and the massive pads left behind by Wayne Holloway have proven awfully hard to fill by two goaltenders with a combined 18 games of experience.

"But this always happens! It's the Cup Winner's Hangover! Learn some hockey history, hoser!"

Well, this is what I've been thinking about. Common hockey wisdom holds that teams that make the championship finals, whether they win or not, often suffer "hangovers" at the start of the next season, whether it's because they ride high off their success and lose some of their competitive edge or because the crushing disappointment of the loss blunts their ferocity - or, more practically, because playing a minimum of 12 and potentially up to 28 games on top of the regular season is hard on the body without factoring in that every extra game is a few days less time to recuperate - so presumably Detroit's slow start is down to this. (For the purposes of this thought experiment, please ignore that Colorado are currently second and appear to have not lost a single step despite also losing a couple of core parts.)

So, I went back through the archives and took the last 20 seasons to see how well it holds up. Spoiler alert, if you're in a hurry - it doesn't really. Here's a graph:

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11 games was chosen as a cut-off point because it's both a not-insignificant number while also still being small enough to have a supermajority of the season remaining - before the league expansion to 14 teams it represents a fraction over 20%, after the expansion it's a flat 1/6 of the year, and either of those would be cause for concern if your favourite team's top sniper had a scoreless streak that lasted that long.

There's a clear inverse correlation between the number of points a team scored in their first 11 games and their final league standing. There are a couple of outliers - Quebec City in season 59 started off cold as anything but found if not quite a rich vein of form, play good enough to leave them a few games over .500 - but for the most part the worse a team performs to open the season the poorer their eventual finish is. However, this is of course just looking at the league standings and doesn't look into the playoff performance; fret not, however, I've done the work for you there as well.

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Look at that, bloody lovely that is.

It may come as a surprise that despite a fairly wide range of placements, it's significantly more likely for the defending champions to not just make the playoffs but make it to at least the semi-finals and a straight coin-flip whether the reigning champs make the Finals or not. It's not a huge shock that no team that has finished above 4th during the regular season has been knocked out before the semi-finals; it is more surprising that the same applies for teams who finish 8th or higher as well, even if none of them have ever won it. Honestly, I was expecting more repeat winners, so kudos to the Newfoundland management for pulling off the three-peat.

So off the evidence of history, the concept of a Cup hangover doesn't really hold water, but this still leaves the question of what happens to Detroit? A 4-5-2 record and 10 points is far from the worst performance in the sample - Kelowna and Quebec City tie for that dubious honour, both squads posting 2-9-0 records for a mighty four points in their post-Cup seasons - but it seems unlikely there's any buzz in the Motor City to emulate the Berzerkers of old and repeat as champions.

The closest comparison seasons are another Falcons squad, the team who took the Cup in season 65, and worryingly, the flash in the pan St. Louis Scarecrows from season 72. S65 Detroit put up 9 points, finishing 10th and failed to make the playoffs at all; St. Louis won four times for 8 points, finishing 9th and getting bounced in the first round by Newfoundland, although to their credit the Scarecrows made the eventual runners-up work for it and took them to a game seven. If this holds, then in all likelihood we're going to be seeing this year's Detroit team in the same spot - finishing in the bottom half of the overall standings and potential fodder for a bigger fish in the postseason. Not news anybody is going to be keen to here but really, when a team loses five of their six starters from last year's opening night only the wildest optimist would be predicting immediate and repeated success.

Meanwhile, the defeated Colorado Raptors look a lot healthier. Dropping three straight to start the season can't have been a good look, but after murdering Anchorage 10-2 in their fourth game the Raptors woke back up and got back to business, ending 7-4-0 for 14 points. Their closest comparisons are, ironically, another Anchorage team - who opened with an identical record en route to finishing 5th and falling in the Cup Finals - and a pair of Newfoundland squads who both tallied 16 points in their first 11 and both, also lost in the Cup Finals. Suffice it to say things are looking much rosier in the Rockies.

And that's your lot. Once again, hockey wisdom is crap. 

[1061 words and 2 pictures, worth 1000 words each. No? Worth a shot.]

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but in our case it's not hockey wisdom, it's just a fact that falcons fireball Fridays have caused perennial hangovers!

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cackling that Detroit immediately went 5-1 after the sample size in this piece

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Sig credits to @sköldpaddor @Possum Queen
2;717;William Hartmann receives the pass in stride and he's in on a breakaway!
2;717;William Hartmann makes his move...

2;717;It's across the line!
Game 2, S56: TOR @ EDM
11:52 2nd: William Hartmann (1) assisted by FR Finn-Rhys (3) and Karlstrasse Scholz (2)

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