What we learned in the NHL in 2014

Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports

The #FancyStats debate is over

The 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs were rather simplistically cast as a one-team referendum on fancy stats, so their combustion down the stretch was a knockout blow for the eye-test crowd and a massive victory for the so-called hockey analytics movement. 

What began as esoteric conversations about ESP/60 on obscure message boards is now a full-blown phenomenon. Broadcasters take pains to explain WOWYs on television, while sports editors make their reporters sit down and learn the ins and outs of puck possession metrics. Meanwhile, NHL teams snapped up the purveyors of advanced statistical websites and hired basically all of the prominent advanced statistical hockey bloggers this summer.

It would seem that the debate is over. As in life - or at least in life after high school - it would appear that the nerds have won.

Expansion is coming

On a slow summer night of hockey news, Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province declared the NHL was heading to Las Vegas and that it was all but a "done deal." The report was met with a hearty dose of skepticism, but as it turns out: yeah, the NHL is probably going to Las Vegas.

Subsequent reports suggested that the NHL was also eyeing a second Toronto team, a team in Quebec City and a club in Seattle. 

In retrospect, it was obvious at the end of the 2012-13 NHL lockout - when expansion fees weren't covered within Hockey Related Revenue - that NHL expansion was more of a 'when' than 'if' proposition. 

In the fall of 2014, it became crystal clear that NHL expansion is nigh.

Streaming matters

The NHL spent much of 2014 gambling hard on its fanbase cutting their cable cords.

The league signed a landmark $5.2-billion Canadian broadcast rights deal with Rogers in the spring of 2014. When Rogers took over, they offered free Game Centre Live streaming to cable subscribers for four months.

It's a desperate attempt on the Canadian cable juggernaut's part to appeal to cord-cutters, and a sign the league understands how younger fans are consuming the product.

Later in the year, the NHL ditched prestige cable network HBO, and took the "Road to the Winter Classic" documentary-style show over to Epix. No one has ever heard of Epix, but lo and behold, the network is offering free streaming of "Road to the Winter Classic" episodes to anyone who signs up for a free network trial.

The NHL knows that hockey fans are watching games on a handheld, or a tablet, or a television connected to an HDMI cable rather a cable cord. The league is leveraging itself accordingly.

If your cheek is the size of a golf ball, call in sick

The NHL has been rocked by an outbreak of the mumps this fall. The usually rare viral infection has spread like wildfire throughout the league in what has to be the strangest sports story in years. More than a dozen players have been infected, including Sidney Crosby - who probably should have called in sick when he arrived at work looking like this:

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What we learned in the NHL in 2014
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