If the NHL and NHLPA come to terms on a new CBA agreement sometime in the next week or so (which they will or hockey fans will go crazy and storm the figurative castle with pitchforks after this tease of a week), we’re looking at an NHL season between 50 and 65 games. Obviously it’s not ideal, but hey, it’s better than the amount they played during the ’04-’05 “season.”

Limiting the number of games increases the odds of “small sample size” phenomenons. We occasionally see guys get hot for a stretch of 12 games (or whatever) during your average season, but when we do, that stretch usually doesn’t make up nearly a quarter of the season. We could see guys with big point-per-game numbers, some goalies with outrageous save percentages and GAAs, and some teams with surprising records in both directions. Not to mention, one major injury could really do some damage.

Hell, if last season were only 62 games long (arbitrary number, but you get the point), the Kings miss playoffs AND THE COURSE OF HISTORY IS CHANGED.

So who’s best suited for a potentially short campaign? Who would be crippled by being denied a late push? Here are definitive answers to those questions, because in no way is this guesswork that could possibly go wrong…right?

Teams That Could Benefit

Teams with a lot of active players

And even better is if a lot of those players are in the AHL, playing on NHL-sized rinks, playing the North American-style game, staying in game shape, and waiting for things to get going. And it’s not just a matter of having guys playing – it’s a matter of having your good players playing.

What that means is that the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks could be be looking pretty good right now.

Mark Spector of Sportnet wrote an article with a similar premise yesterday, and he include a quote from “one NHL executive,” who echoed that sentiment:

“Edmonton, Carolina and Chicago will have a big advantage. They have a lot of young key players playing in North America on the small ice, getting a ton of ice time. It’s a big difference from playing in Europe,” he said. “If we start in two weeks, there will be guys who have played over 30 games, and guys who have played zero.”

Normally you’d think that guys who’ve already played 30 times prior to a tight NHL grind would be at disadvantage, but you have to think: if they’re eligible to play in the AHL, they’re pretty young and their bodies should respond well. Maybe down the road it’ll hurt them, but I think they’d come out roaring. The Oilers have their top-six forwards playing somewhere right now, and that could propel them up the standings early on (especially if Justin Schultz can play goal, too).

Teams with great goaltending tandems

It’s always great to have a rock solid number one starter who can play a ton of games, but even those guys need to be spelled off a dozen times a year or so. With games being pushed closer together, they’re still going to need that dozen games if you don’t want them to go into the post-season completely beaten down. There’s just too many games in too many nights. So instead of playing 87% percent of your teams games, now they’re only playing 78%, and your back-up becomes more important.

To me, that gives a leg up to great duos like Halak/Elliot in St. Louis, Quick/Bernier in Los Angeles, and even Fleury/Vokoun in Pittsburgh if both those guys can reestablish the form they once had. Peter Budaj in Montreal…not gonna cut it at this point.

Mainstay, defensively responsible coaches

Some teams almost have an institutionalized way they like to play, and they don’t stand for someone getting a wild hair, flying around and worrying about their own numbers. These coaches have consistent success, and their teams are often sharper earlier, given that the players know what to expect going into the year.

To me, that helps out the following four teams: the Vancouver Canucks and Alain Vigneault (4th in goals against per game in 2011-12 – 2.33), the Phoenix Coyotes and Dave Tippett (5th – 2.37 GA/G), the Boston Bruins and Claude Julien (6th – 2.43 GA/G), and the Detroit Red Wings and Mike Babcock (7th – 2.44 GA/G).

While the Blues, Kings and Rangers topped the league in goals-against-per-game, I have less faith in the “culture of defense” in those places than I do in the ones I mentioned. Not saying those other teams are going to be suddenly shitty on D, I can just see the four I mentioned tighter than a lot of the teams in the league in the early going, and of course, a hot start is key in a short season.

***

Teams Who Could Be Hurt

The Aged

Older teams are likely to struggle during a short season more than the youthful ones. Not in the early going, but by about halfway through the year. It takes a bigger and bigger effort as you get older to feel your best (especially the day after a game), and two teams in particular stand out to me. In 2011-2012, two of the three oldest teams were the New Jersey Devils (oldest at 29.34) and the Florida Panthers ( 3rd oldest at 28.561. both according to QuantHockey).

And more on age…

Teams with older, or injury-prone stars

As I implied earlier in the post – if your top-gunner gets hurt in a pushed together schedule, you’re going to feel the effects. I won’t single anyone out like Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers (who played every game last season, but has had some big injuries in the past), but I could see a team that heavily relies on an older star suffer when the wear and tear of a condensed schedule has an effect on their body. Patrick Elias of the New Jersey Devils finished 10th in NHL scoring last year, and he’ll be 36/37 this season – can he keep up that pace when the league mashes 60 games in four or five months? I’m skeptical.

The other teams I’d worry for is teams with bad backups (Columbus? Edmonton? Anaheim?), teams with new coaches and teams with vastly different rosters from the previous season. In regards to the latter, it really does take some time before a new groups starts to understand their teammates tendencies, and begin clicking.

Which brings us to our final team…

The Minnesota Wild

I have no clue what to expect from this group. They just added Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two legitimate NHLers, Olympians, all-stars. But will it take time for them to click? Or will their abilities override that and immediately make them better?

Last year, the Wild started out like a house on fire, even leading the Western Conference at one point before apparently driving the team bus off a cliff and missing playoffs by a sizable chunk. Could they have another hot start and hold on to a good seed? How will the team fare in the wake of their goalie being diagnosed with MS? Will they rally for him, will he struggle, will he excel? Will Mike Yeo turn into one of the league’s great coach or become a failed experiment? Is Dany Heatley even good anymore?

One things for sure about the Wild this year that we haven’t been able to say in, oh, ever (read this hilarious post, for example): they’re interesting. We’ll be watching, and we’ll be tracking who were the rest of the big winners and losers of the (eventual) shortened season.

Comments (25)

  1. Alex Auld is in Ottawa, not Montreal. Budaj is Price’s backup at the moment

  2. I tend to think teams with older players would be helped (assuming they don’t start slow, which is a different thing that being old and can impact all players). Don’t you think someone pushing 40 would do better come playoff time if they’d played 60 games instead of 82?

    • If those 60 games were spread out over the normal length of the schedule, yes. Not condensed. That is another good point about older players – most didn’t choose to go play anywhere, so they could start slow too.

      • At least in New Jersey we can split time between BOTH OF OUR FORTY YEAR OLD GOALIES!!!*

        *okay Hedberg is only 39… but yeah…

      • JB IS PICKING ON THE DEVILS AGAIN SAME OLD LAMESTREAM MEDIA!!!

        Okay, now that I have the required ‘chip on the shoulder Devils’ fan’ bit taken care of, to the meat and potatoes:

        Yeah, we’re old. But I would argue that our youth system is stocked with enough talent to step in and eat up minutes. I think the teams in trouble are the teams that are not deep and do not have many great prospects who can get a chance to shine.

        Lou has a way of finding the Adam Henrique’s of the world. We’ll be just fine.

      • I hear you. With a condensed schedule, you’re probably right.

    • Think the idea is that any gains made by less-wear in less games is going to be wiped out with the compressed schedule for the old guys. Someone like, say, Anton Volchenkov needs a lot more “maintenance days” (practices skipped, etc) to try to stay in the lineup than someone like Adam Henrique. With a compressed schedule, Volchenkov won’t get them.

  3. Great post Bourne. What I’m really curious about though are people’s feelings on the Cup champion this year. Is there a big fat asterisk next to the winner in the history books?

    Because it would be just like my team (Canucks) to finally win after endless disappointment in a year when it’s not as meaningful. Poetic really.

    • Nah, no asterisk in my books. 60 is enough. The Heat won the title after a 66 game season last year and people think it’s legit. Even when the Devils won the Cup in 95 not many people had the balls to claim it wasn’t legit. Obviously you’d prefer it not to be the case, but come playoffs, that 16 win grind is still a war.

      • I would submit that players who played in The Finals with LA & New Jersey last year caught a huge benefit with the extended off-season. Can’t imagine how hard it must be to go through the playoff grind all the way through mid-June, go through all the stuff that happens when the season ends, and then be expected to crank it back up when September rolls around.

  4. I think Patrick Kanes shootout goal against minnesota killed them. i think thats the exact moment they fell off the cliff

  5. Thank you for not throwing the Red Wings under the “Old Team” bus. Every year for the last decade commentators have been saying they are too old.

    (On the flip side, they might have lost too much of their experience this off season, RIP The Perfect Human)

    • To be fair, of their two vastly most-important guys, Datsyuk has started to be effected by little nagging injuries that guys start getting with age and Zetterberg, well, for my fantasy team’s sake, I’m hoping that putrid start last season was an extended hangover from his wedding and not a flare-up of back problems or something.

  6. And the biggest winners are the NHL wives, who can now return to normal life without having to care for another child in the house.

  7. We’ve seen a couple of teams make the post season off the back of a good start; equally a bad one has killed a few teams play-off hopes before the mid way point has even been reached.

    Always felt Vancouver are a little slow off the mark, whilst TO are generally decent starters who fade – a shortened season could flip the fortunes of both franchises! Would Vancouver want a tricky first round draw versus, say, Chicago with the Hawks commanding home advantage?

    Leafs would just be happy to make the damn play-offs!

  8. I think the younger (AHL playing) teams would only benefit in the 1st couple weeks of the season. After that, everyone is in “game-shape”. Later on in the season is when they would actually be hurt by playing 30? AHL games plus the 60? NHL regular season games. Once playoffs start, they will be spent.

    I also, don’t think the schedule will be overly compressed. I heard Dec 20th being thrown around last night. As an example, the Devils originally had 53 games scheduled after this date. 2 games can easily fit into the canceled All-Star break. That leaves 5 games to add into 4 months, which is doable, especially if they extend the season end date.

    • In the Devils case, they’re also getting back on the ice after a much needed rest after an extended playoff run. I’m not sure how much that factors in, but we’ve seen teams that make the finals start slow when the season begins at the regular time…

  9. Just heard that the NHLPA has requested the mediators come back for the barganing session …..WTF what happened since yesterday??????

  10. “While the Blues, Kings and Rangers topped the league in goals-against-per-game, I have less faith in the “culture of defense” in those places than I do in the ones I mentioned”.

    At least in the case of the Kings and Blues, haven’t they carved out their spot based almost entirely on defense and consistent play? If anything I feel like these two teams will be most likely to have their defense show up. Hell, the Kings only found offense in the last 3rd of last season. The only reason they’ve made the playoffs the last 3 seasons was on the play of their defense. I think the Kings, at least, show up on D as they have the past several years.

  11. Wow. Haven’t bothered to check out the blog in a long time. People are still interested in NHL. I guess thats good.

  12. I also want to thank the BShelf crew for jinxing the negotiations. Look at us, all giddily (<- is that a word?) planning for the season and figuring out who will do well. HAH.

  13. Kings, Blues, and Devils don’t get respect for their shot-limiting defense — why exactly?

    Hitchcock and Sutter aren’t d-minded coaches?

    No one respected team defense in their playoff previews either. Oops.

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