More on the NHLPA/Hockey Night in Canada player survey

The CBC and NHLPA annual player survey results were broadcast during the All-Star Game and posted on the CBC website. As mentioned previously on LBC, the Panthers garnered a few mentions, including the top spot in perennial contender "worst ice in the league." This is no surprise as four of the top five (all but Madison Square Garden) were in Florida or southern California, where it's warm all winter. This is the Panthers' only mention on the CBC site, which lists only the top five answers. However, two further questions that had the Panthers at fifth behind a tie for fourth were reported in other media outlets. One was a fifth place/5% showing for "worst boards and glass." The other was "Which team would you least like to play on?" in which Florida garnered 2% of the vote.

What's interesting about this besides that the complete survey results weren't released, is the fan reaction. I saw quite a few complaints that the survey is not scientific and that the sample size is too small. The first I will grant, however the second is just plain wrong. The NHLPA surveyed 318 players. Each team's roster is made up of a minimum of 20 to a maximum of 23 players for a league total of 600 to 690 active players. While the union's membership is a good deal larger, including all injured players and players in the minor leagues, the questions were asked of somewhere between 46% and 53% of active players, which is a pretty good sample size. One other thing to keep in mind when looking at the numbers is that each percentage point equals about 3 players.

With all of this in mind, let's take another look at the question "What team would you least like to play on?"

New York Islanders 27% (86)
Edmonton Oilers 20% (64)
Buffalo Sabres 8% (25)
Atlanta Thrashers 7% (22)
Toronto Maple Leafs 5% (16)
Montreal Canadiens 5% (16)
Florida Panthers 2% (6)

While it's not desirable to make such a list, when one considers that it only took around 6 players to put Florida on the list, it's not that big a deal. (It's also not hard to imagine in a sample that size that either Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton or both answered this survey.) It's a far bigger problem for the Islanders and Oilers and also not a surprise that they topped the list. It's well known that both teams have had problems signing free agents. It's gotten so bad for the Isles that they're building their team through the waiver process. While it did net them Michael Grabner from the Panthers, they had a high profile rejection recently from goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. What these teams all have in common, with the exception of the Canadiens, is a record of futility. The Panthers have missed the playoffs for 9 seasons. The Islanders have been terrible to mediocre for over a decade. The Oilers have been terrible every year since a losing Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2006. The Sabres, Thrashers and Leafs have alternated years of missing the playoffs with early playoff exits. The Canadiens have been better, but are in one of the two biggest hockey markets, with the attendant attention from media and the public. It seems likely this is a bigger contributor than their record.

What this answer doesn't show is that the players don't want to play in the "non-traditional markets" that the Canadian media like to constantly trash. Three of the six Canadian teams made this list, and a Florida team, the Tampa Bay Lightning came in fifth (6%, or about 19 players) in the converse question, "What team would you most like to play on?" Yes, not only do more than twice as many players not want to play for the Leafs or Canadiens as the Panthers, but more players would rather play for the Lightning. This is most likely due to the new ownership and the high respect among players for new General Manager Steve Yzerman.

In short, it's easy to put too much stock in these things and also easy to completely dismiss them. The results shouldn't be completely ignored, but it's important to keep the context in mind. However, it couldn't hurt to maybe put a little more work into making that ice better.

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