How a shortened NHL season changes the game

Hahn: 'Teams can't afford to hit a bad stretch'

How a shortened NHL season changes the game
January 7, 2013, 2:30 pm
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1. Backup goaltenders are going to be significantly more important in this shortened season.
When you consider a condensed schedule with routine "3-game-in-4-night" scenarios, it will be humanly impossible for "Number One" goalies to make all the starts they or their team would desire.  In this case, we are much more likely to see a higher proportion of backups when the schedule dictates ... instead of the opponent dictates.

2. Benches will get shortened less, and lines/pairs may be stacked much differently.
In tighter games, teams usually get to rolling only 2-3 lines and 2 d-pairs, in knowing that the key players will get a few days to rest after that night's contest.  In the case of this year, you are more likely to see coaching staffs forced to stack and utilize their forward trios and defensive combinations differently... so that there is a balance of everyone getting used/fatigued more proportionately.

3. Teams can't afford losing skids.
The conventional NHL schedule is a battle of endurance, with 82 games stretching from early October to early April.  This year's campaign is likely to feature 48 games beginning on January 19th, and concluding mid-April.  It's the difference between drinking from a water bottle, and a fire-hose.  As colleague Randy Hahn put it best: "If you lose five in a row, that's more than 10% of your season." 

4. There will be more "surprise teams" in the postseason.
The prime example of this ... the Minnesota Wild, who began last year 20-7-3.  After a full 82, they ended up not even qualifying for the playoffs... by 15 points.  It's a safe assumption that at least one team will get hot, ride the wave, and get into a postseason scenario that otherwise would not have happened with a full schedule.

5. Players from the AHL might have an edge, over NHL players, in training camps.
Aside from those who participated in Russia's KHL (like Joe Pavelski), it's safe to say that no NHL player has experienced a routinely high "compete level" during the lockout.  The regarded "next best thing" to the NHL is the minor-league AHL, where San Jose's own Worcester Sharks affiliate. The AHL might be providing more personnel than normal when training camps start.  In a season where a "hot start" is almost mandatory, players with 30+ AHL games already under their belt this season just might become a lot more handy.