With the NHL and NHLPA continuing talk’s today, there is some slight hope a season could be salvaged. I say slight because at this point I don’t think there would be a hockey fan anywhere that is still optimistic. It’s getting to the point where someone just has to lock Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr into a room until they hammer something out. Kind of like that classic Simpsons episode where Bart locks Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel in an office to finally put an end to an infamous teacher’s strike at Springfield Elementary.
If both parties are able to come to terms instead of blows, at this point in the game we would certainly see an abbreviated season. Whether its 64 games, 42 games, or anything else, a shortened campaign could make for some interesting results.
Let’s look back to the 1994-95 year that was shortened to 48 games. The New Jersey Devils took home the Stanley Cup that season, which wasn’t all that surprising since they just missed out on the Finals the year before thanks to a Mark Messier guarantee. However, there was not as much parity back then as there is today in the NHL. A 40-something game year in 2012-13 could see a few surprise teams make the playoffs.
Take the Toronto Maple Leafs for example. In 2011-12 they got off to a 25-19-6 start for the months of October, November, December, and January. Then, thanks to some shaky goaltending, worse defense than the New Orleans Saints are currently playing, and several beatdowns at the hands of the Boston Bruins, they finished 10-18-4. Ultimately forcing Brian Burke to fire Ron Wilson and hire Randy Carlyle, in one of the more panicked moves since the Baltimore Colts left for Indianapolis.
Any time you are talking about less games it always favors the weaker team. Why do you think the New York Yankees always make the playoffs, but then have struggled recently in the postseason? Well, over a 162 game season with a roster like they have, the Yankees are typically going to outlast the rest of their division counterparts and come out on top. In the playoffs though, when it is a best 3-of-5 or 4-of-7 series, they are much more vulnerable.
The NFL is on the opposite spectrum. There is more parity there than any other league because it’s only 16 games. Teams can get on a hot streak and sneak in before you know it. Then in a one game playoff format, it doesn’t take much for top teams to lose. One bad quarter and a few mistakes can cost you a season.
The 2012-13 NHL year would be somewhere between the two aforementioned examples. It’s realistic to think any kind of season at this point would be somewhere between 45-65 games. If that had happened last year, teams like the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, and Maple Leafs would have had an excellent shot at earning a postseason spot.
If the Leafs are able to end their playoff drought, they may have the NHL Lockout to thank.