While fans, teams and players get ready for the upcoming 48-game regular season, I wanted to take a second to step back and look at how a condensed schedule can help or hurt the NHL.
The first thing I noticed is how many games will be played in such a short amount of time. The last time the NHL had a shortened/condensed season was in 1995 and that schedule consisted of 48 games being stuffed into a 104 day period. That’s a lot of hockey in a short period time, especially for guys that haven’t been playing NHL hockey for about 6-7 months.
Not to mention that while plenty of players went overseas to play hockey or found other alternatives to stay in shape, NHL hockey simply cannot be recreated or replicated outside of the NHL.
Sure, it’s fairly competitive hockey overseas and around the world but the rinks are usually larger and the talent is usually a bit more lacking. Players have much more time and space to create plays and gain speed, something that’s a rare commodity in the NHL. I mean you go from playing on a large ice surface against Joe Switzerland and then you have to come back and play in a smaller rink against Zdeno Chara? That’s a fun little adjustment that I may be blowing out of proportion but hey, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?
I should also note that while there is plenty of injury risk involved in the sport of hockey, the risk would appear to grow with a condensed schedule and player’s bodies are going through a type of stress that it’s not normally accustomed to and then oh yeah, they have the half season known as the NHL playoffs right after. I don’t know about you but I’m guessing there are going to be a lot of pulled hamstrings and other injuries of that nature. Hopefully not too many torn ACL’s, PCL’s, MCL’s and whatever other knee ligaments I’m missing.
Throughout the course of an 82-game season most teams have ups and downs. I know as a Boston Bruins fan my B’s are susceptible to not only days of poor play but also weeks. They have become a bit infamous for their up and down play, a typical B’s season is the definition of a roller coaster ride (that goes for the playoffs too). However they can ill afford those types of lulls in a condensed season. Not only will teams be playing a compressed schedule, but they will also only being playing teams from their respective conference.
There aren’t many throw away games in the pros as it is, but when the season is so short and everything is magnified while only playing teams that you’re fighting against for a playoff spot. Wins, losses and overtime losses tend to matter just a bit more when less games are being played.
Training camp is expected to be a week long and there isn’t going to be a preseason this year. That leaves little time for teams and players to get ready for such a short and pressure filled season. It leaves even less time for players who are sprinkling back into North America from around the world to get reacquainted with their old teammates/coaches and to meet and develop chemistry with new ones. This is why hopefully teams like my Bruins as well as Los Angeles and Pittsburgh to name a few, that already have their core in place and have had it in place for a few years now, have the best shot of starting out hot and never looking back. Doesn’t mean they will, with such a short season anything can happen and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “surprise” team or two in the postseason.
I referenced the shortened 1995 NHL season earlier and I missed a little tidbit. It should be noted that not only did they play 48 games in 104 days that year, but also 9 coaches were let go either during or directly after that season. Pretty big number in my opinion but it’s easy to see how and why it happened. Many players and coaches haven’t been in this type of situation where so many games that are so valuable are played over such a short amount of time, it can be kind of nuts. Not many owners have been in the situation either and sadly I feel hockey more than any other sport, blames the coach when a team struggles or is underperforming.
Whatever way you look at a condensed schedule, I think it’ll be fun and I can’t wait to watch how this season plays out. It should be a fast and furious season, I’m excited just to have hockey back and I’m even more excited that we’ll have so much NHL action condensed into a few months. Even if there appear to be many pitfalls involved in a shortened NHL season.