What we can be reasonably sure of, at this point, is there will be NHL hockey on January 19. The question that remains is how many embarrassing spats will the NHL and NHLPA squeeze in between now and then. We will get that answer sometime tomorrow, when the NHLPA responds to the latest NHL offer, and perhaps more importantly, when the NHL responds to that response.
But let’s leave that for now. After all these months of yin yanging between optimism and pessimism, having this thing go “according to script” is beyond infuriating to the taken-for-granted fan. At least we can now be reasonably sure there will be an NHL season (I can’t imagine that the involved parties would be, bluntly, stupid enough to lose a second season in eight years – though to this point, it must be said, they’ve done very little to support that theory). And having something beyond the lockout to focus on is, to say the least, refreshing.
So, what implications would a 48 game season (fingers crossed) hold for the Lightning?
The most obvious difference between a regular-length season and a shortened season is each game carries more weight. A lengthy losing streak is bad in an 82 game season, but in a 48 game season it can be lethal. That, of course, does not bode well for the Lightning. The team has undergone a significant overhaul from last year to this, and any reasonable fan can expect some growing pains. Unfortunately, in this particular season, the Lightning might not be able to afford growing pains. And with only a 6-7 day training camp to work with before the season starts (if it starts at all), it will be up to the Lightning coaching staff to get this team on the same page in a hurry. That will likely (or should) mean simple systems, and high percentage plays, until the team can forge its new identity.
On the other hand, a shortened season means one good winning streak could be enough to get a team into the playoffs. And the Lightning have several players capable of getting hot and carrying the team through a week or two. This also raises the stakes even more on the off-season acquisition of Anders Lindback. A hot month from Lindback could put the Lightning into the post-season, whereas a prolonged cold stretch could send them packing early for the second straight season.
If each game is more significant, then in turn, each man-game lost becomes more significant. Therefore, staying healthy will be essential. Injuries will sink a team faster in a shortened season, which puts even more responsibility on the coaching staff to make smart decisions when it comes to player health.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the biggest beneficiary of a shortened season should be older players. An 82 game regular season is a grueling journey, and it’s all the more grueling for players getting on in years. Players like Marty St. Louis, Sami Salo, and perhaps even Vincent Lecavalier (who, despite being just 32, has had health issues over the last two seasons), might find a 48 game schedule an easier hill to climb, so long as packing those games into a shorter span of time doesn’t prove too much a challenge.
Whatever the pros and cons, I suppose we can all agree that a shortened season is better than no season at all. I, for one, still hope we make the league pay for its incompetence during these negotiations to ensure we never have to go through this again. At the same time, I’m excited that it looks like we might actually see competition on the ice, rather than just the ludicrous one going on in the board room.