Throughout a nine-month hockey season, bumps, bruises and scars build up.
Players get tired, injuries pile on, and the NHL’s physical style doesn’t do veterans in their 30s any favors.
But now, that nine-month journey will shrink by half. The schedule will be compacted, so every game will mean that much more.
The NHL and its players association reached a tentative deal for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement early Sunday morning, ending a 113-day lockout.
Although the schedule has not been determined, it will likely be 48 or 50 games with the season beginning on either Jan. 15 or 19. Because of the shortened schedule and amount of games that will be played each week, there likely won’t be any crossover games between conferences, as several media outlets have speculated.
Nobody wanted to see any games canceled. Everyone wants a full season, players and fans both. But there’s still plenty to be excited about.
This half season has the potential for greatness and should help the continuing growth of hockey in the United States. Players will be fresher than ever come playoff time, and for anyone who has watched the NHL postseason at length, that’s a great thing.
Each team finds a whole new level of intensity, which will only be heightened by a short year. Physicality will increase, and players will have that extra step from January to June, when it can sometimes run out come April during a full, 82-game season.
With less than three full months to play close to 50 games, the NHL will have more games each night and hockey fans will be able to get their fix league-wide for seven days a week.
Casual fans who don’t like keeping up with a nine-month season are in luck, as well. It can be difficult to keep up with such a long regular season, evident by the NBA’s television ratings in a lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. Its 3.3 average rating on ABC telecasts was a 10 percent increase from the previous year, and personally, as a casual NBA fan, I found it easier to keep up with the 66-game slate.
Sure, hockey fans are upset with the league, and rightfully so. But as we saw with the NBA, the supporters came back immediately after the lockout. NHL fans will likely do the same, even if it takes a year or two.
And although there may not be any crossover between the Eastern and Western conferences because of travel distance, the Penguins and Flyers should still do battle about half a dozen times. With an increased emphasis on each game, especially if there are as many divisional contests as usual, fans will still get to see the teams they love to hate.
This lockout was a travesty, and any sane hockey fan hopes the league never has to cancel more than 500 games in a season again. But this season is very salvageable, and should still provide plenty of excitement.
With fresh legs, more importance placed on each regular season game and a compacted schedule, hockey fans should be in for a treat starting now and running until June.