Imagine you are the crew chief of an Indy Car team, and you were just informed that this year’s Indianapolis 500 has been rescheduled as the “Indy 275”. That’s pretty much the challenge that has been put in front of NHL GMs, coaches, and players. With a 48 game schedule, this season will have a unique character. A hot streak will give that much more of an advantage. A slump, even a short one, will be equally impactful. Mistakes will be even more glaring than normal. A couple of big games will mean the difference between collecting hardware at the end of the year, and being an also ran. Injuries will be doubly costly. For both players individually, and for teams as a whole, a condensed season makes for intensified results statistically, and in the standings. Goals and assists are twice as valuable, as are points for teams. Given that the games are going to be within the same conference, this season a “4 point game” is more like an “8 point game” in importance.
Some teams and players will benefit from this more than others. It stands to reason that teams might not meet the expectations that would come under normal circumstances. There will be surprises, both good and bad. Players that hit the ground running might end up with a Richard or Art Ross trophy on the mantle, which might not otherwise ever end up there. Teams that might not have a shot at the playoffs in a full season might sneak in to the big dance. (I’m thinking the Oilers here. It’s not like Hall, Eberle, RNH, and Schultz have been playing together all this time or anything.) Conversely, a couple of teams who would normally be a lock to be there at the end of the year might stumble, and not be able to catch up by spring.
But this shortened race has a catch. The finish line is also a starting line. A team that is built for the abnormal sprint that is the 2013 NHL season still has the normal meat grinder that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs to look forward to. This will quickly weed out the pretenders. One of the by products of this shortened season will undoubtedly be wildly unpredictable playoffs, particularly in the first round. There will be some incredibly dangerous 6, 7, and 8 seeds, ready to take out unsuspecting division winners. As much as we’ve all hated the lockout, this season will have some very interesting aspects to it, as will the upcoming playoffs. As we have learned from last year’s playoffs, an 8 seed like LA can run the table. For the next 6 months, there will be no nights off.
So what do you think? Which players will benefit/be hurt by the lockout performance wise? Which teams will surprise/disappoint? Who will make/miss the playoffs? I’d love to see your feedback and read your predictions. It’s going to be interesting.