Take me to the airport, put me on a plane

Ryan Lambert
July 18 2009 04:42PM

25_airplane_lg

The problem for Calgary is apparently that the Flames have expectations to pass through everywhere again.

And certainly, logging 55,000-plus miles is an absurd amount. At least it sounds that way.

But is it really that detrimental? Three of the five teams that logged 50k or more last season made the playoffs last season (San Jose, Calgary and Vancouver; Dallas and Phoenix did not), after all. And yeah, two of those three got bounced in the first round, but it doesn't appear, to me at least, that the mileage suddenly took its toll over the course of a week and a half.

The Sharks, for example, won the President's Trophy while putting a league-high 56,111 miles worth of red dotted line all over North America before they lost to Anaheim in the first round. You could blame the loss on the mileage, sure. But you could also blame it on the fact that Ryan Getzlaf put in an excellent series (well, he put in an excellent postseason, all things considered), scoring eight points in six games. You could blame it on a team that tended to rely heavily upon players that were north of 30. You could blame it on the Sharks simply being the Sharks and losing in the first round because that's just what they do. But okay, the mileage could still have had an impact.

The Flames were, as you are well aware, the other playoff team to get bounced in the first round after flying 50,000 or more miles (52,941, actually factually). And knowing the team as intimately as we do, we know that the extra few miles were the least of the team's concerns. Injuries, no defensive system, a coach with his head so far up his ass that it actually just missed the cut at 49,712 miles traveled, and so forth. They played so remarkably poorly for the latter third of the season that many (read: I) didn't believe they'd do any better than get steamrolled. That they didn't was a miracle.

Vancouver, the only playoff team we're discussing to actually make the second round, did so in a gangbusters style, sweeping St. Louis on the back of the inimitable and immensely enjoyable Alex Burrows, despite the fact that the team flew 52,206 miles in the regular season (fifth-most in the league). But they snuck by the team with, I believe, the most man-games lost to injury of any team in the NHL (projected to be around 465, says Mirtle). But this was a seriously, seriously flawed Vancouver team and as such, a second-round exit was probably the best it could have hoped for headed into the playoffs.

The other two teams to travel over 50,000 miles were, as I said, Dallas (51,541, third-most) and Phoenix (51,233, fourth). So unless it was all the mileage that caused Marty Turco's absolutely-hideous-from-Day-1 season, and not the recurring, crippling injuries to key players, it's fair to say that the mileage was, once again, not the cause. Phoenix, of course, wouldn't have made the playoffs if they'd played 82 in Glendale.

Traveling a lot is a fact of life in the Western Conference. It's not like these guys are flying coach with screaming babies and guys typing away furiously to put the final touches on a presentation he has to give in Peoria in three hours. Hell, they're not even flying commercial. They're never going to face a Planes, Trains and Automobiles-type situation (note to Dion Phaneuf: those aren't pillows!). It really could be a whole hell of a lot worse, is all I'm saying.

At least Darryl Sutter, whose team has traveled the second-most and now most out of anyone in the NHL, isn't out there bitching to the league and press about it like some crybabies I can think of.

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Yer ol' buddy Lambert is handsome and great and everyone loves him. Also you can visit his regular blog at The Two-Line Pass or follow him on Twitter. Lucky you!
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#1 Smitty
July 19 2009, 11:17AM
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"The league has begun to take steps to help the Canucks' road issues next season and Gillis is optimistic things will improve.

'I think we have a great chance. In fact, we've got a draft in place for about 38 of our road games for next season already, which is unheard of... They made us a number one priority in terms of travel for a variety of reasons. One of them is injury history, crossing borders, and the fact that geographically, we don't have a team within a couple or three hours of us.'"

So do you think if the Flames management starts complaining about how poorly we do in the second game of a back-to-back, that the league might start working on that for us?

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#2 Lefebvre
July 19 2009, 02:55PM
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Good piece, TLP. It's an interesting topic because it's an impossible thing to definitively prove or disprove. The whole thing about a Pacific time zone team never winning the Cup (until Anaheim) was often brought up as proof of the wear and tear of extensive travel but that was hardly convincing.

At the very least, the impact is psychological. Some players who have played for both Eastern teams and Western teams believe the more extensive travel takes a toll and if they believe that, then there probably is a negative effect to all those air miles, even if it's only in their heads. In that way, it's similar to the phenomenon of playing at altitude when visiting teams come to Calgary and Denver. Some players never give it a second thought and others either experience or imagine a significant difference.

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#3 b1ackhat
July 22 2009, 08:45AM
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I know a guy who plays in the NHL in the Eastern Conference and he says "most nights of the year I sleep in my own bed." Claims that it's harder to heal from minor injuries on the road too.

But Lefebvre's ANA point is well taken.

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