On Tuesday, we talked some about how Oklahoma City performed at the gate in 2012-13, and the results weren't particularly encouraging. Even with an influx of NHL talent, the Barons finished dead last in AHL attendance, and saw another decline from what they drew the previous year. Interestingly, the departure of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, and Schultz had no impact on the attendance numbers; in fact, the Barons had slightly better numbers after they left!
To me, that was a big surprise. An even bigger surprise? The team performed better after those players left too! For the season as a whole, the Barons outshot their opponents by 1.9 shots per game (31.1 to 29.2), but that wasn't a consistent number all year long: before the lockout ended, the Barons had a shot differential of -2.1 per game (29.2 to 31.3), but once the lockout ended their shot differential improved to +5.3 per game (32.7 to 27.4) for the rest of the season. A quick look at the ten and twenty-game moving average tells the same story visually:
That black line is the last segment that included the NHLers in every game. It's bizarre stuff, and though it bodes well for Oklahoma City's chances in the playoffs, it's also a bit disconcerting for fans who hope that those same young players will one day carry an NHL team.
Given that the Barons don't play a balanced schedule, one possible reason for this shift is quality of competition. Did the Barons just play a tougher schedule at the start of the year? Um... nope. I've charted the opponent's (full-season) goal differential (20-game moving average) in the chart below and the results are, once again, surprising:
If anything, OKC had an easier section of their schedule at the front end, and then performed better against tougher opponents. In fact, if we look at how OKC performed against teams with a goal differential of +20 or better (Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Texas, and Toronto, who also happen to be the top four seeds in the Western Conference), games that happened much more frequently at the back end of their schedule, the Barons did very well posting a regulation time record of 13-8-5, regulation time goal differential of +7 (+90 -83), and overall shot differential of +1.3 per game (29.7 to 28.4). It's very likely that any path through the playoffs goes through those four teams (the Barons play Charlotte in the opening round, which starts tomorrow), so this kind of performance against the best teams is very encouraging, and actually much better than last season when the Barons had the best record in the Conference, but did that while playing a relatively easy schedule and struggling against the best teams.
There were certainly some wonderful individual performances in OKC this season: Justin Schultz set the world on fire with his offense from the blueline; Jordan Eberle finished among the top twenty goalscorers despite playing just 34 games; Mark Arcobello finished among the league's top scorers; Brett Clark played his way back to the NHL; and Toni Rajala emerged as a quality prospect. But it wasn't just individual performances that stand out. The team as a whole also had a wonderful year, and it's not over yet. The second season begins tomorrow, and in my opinion, the Barons have a real chance to go far.