We now think we know who the Bruins will play against to open this shortened 2013 NHL season, but we don’t know much else. What is known, in addition to the report that the B’s will open with the Rangers on Jan. 19, is that each club is looking at a 48-game season.
It’s going to be a wild sprint to the finish line, with each game taking added significance. Teams can’t afford slow starts, nor can they withstand some sort of “midseason” lull. As NESN’s Andy Brickley loves to say, “Points are at a premium,” a saying that will take on added significance this season.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who might be poised for success this season with the short schedule, as well as which teams might be in trouble with the truncated slate.
Who’s got the experience?
The short season means each game takes on more meaning, and that should favor teams who have won when it matters most. Which teams are though? Well, you have to start with the teams that have the right combination of veteran talent that have won in the past. Two teams that really stand out in this scenario are the Bruins and Penguins. Both teams are obviously talented, but just as importantly, they’ve won Stanley Cups recently and the core of those Cup-winning squads remains largely intact. We might also look at the Blackhawks (more on them in a bit) who are three years removed from a Cup with players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp still on the roster.
Don’t forget depth
Injuries are going to happen. These players are used to going through training camp and then preseason games before kicking it up a notch during the regular season. Even once the regular season begins, there’s still a feeling-out period through the season’s first couple of months for most teams. With the pressure to win and win early, along with a week-long camp and no exhibition games, players are going to be pushing themselves harder and earlier than they’re used to. So yeah, make sure your training staff is ready to go, too, because we’re going to see more pulls, strains and sprains in a short period of time than we’ve ever seen. That makes depth crucial. Staying local, look at the Bruins for example. Claude Julien loves to “roll four lines,” and that could be key in a shortened season.
Goalies will need to be big, too
Where the Bruins and Blackhawks may have skill, depth and experience in their four forward lines and defensive pairings, there are question marks between the pipes. Tuukka Rask takes over full-time in Boston, while Corey Crawford is going to try and forget about a painful 2011-12 season in Chicago. When the intensity and importance of games are ratcheted up, we look to the goaltenders to steal the show. That’s the reason we see so many goalies win the Conn Smythe trophy, as a hot goalie can turn a decent playoffs team into a Stanley Cup winner. That would seem to bode well for Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. If Brian Elliott can repeat his performance from a year ago, the Blues could be a team ready to make the next step. Pekka Rinne could go a long way in making Nashville forget about Ryan Suter. Then you have teams like the Los Angeles Kings, who are still talented, have some depth and are coming off a Stanley Cup win, who are lucky enough to have Jonathan Quick between the pipes, too.
New coach? Good luck
It’s tough to see a team like the Washington Capitals having much success this season. Dale Hunter has moved back north after leading the Caps to the playoffs and to a surprising first-round upset of the Bruins. His defensive-minded system goes with him, too, a system that made Braden Holtby a household name (albeit one that was cursed in New England homes from Maine to Rhode Island). Washington opted to do a 180 by promoting recent Hall of Fame inductee Adam Oates to head coach. Oates may end up being a great coach, but we’re talking about a guy who had 1,400 points in his career. He values offense where Hunter valued defense. The short training camp will do him no favors implementing his new system, either. However, the Caps do have undeniable offensive talent, and it’s probably safe to say that Alexander Ovechkin will be poised to bounce back from his career-low 65 points last season. Similar problems could arise in Calgary (Bob Hartley), Edmonton (Ralph Krueger) and Montreal (Michel Therrien) where new head coaches all take over.
Young legs? You might be on to something
While the Edmonton Oilers may be under control of a new head coach and coming off another last-place finish, they could be a surprise team this season. There’s a school of thought that says young legs could be beneficial in a short season, and the Oilers have plenty of those. Their top four returning scorers — Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner — are all 23 or younger, with Gagner serving as the elder statesman (born on Aug. 23, 1989). Add No. 1 draft pick Nail Yakupov to the mix, and you have arguably the league’s best young core, which is what happens when you have the No. 1 pick seemingly each year since the Clinton administration. These guys have also been playing together, too. The lockout afforded the Oilers to stockpile talent in the AHL where players like Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and 22-year-old defenseman Justin Schultz all played together building chemistry. Add it all up and you realize you have to keep your eye on teams like the Oilers.
Frequent flyer miles won’t equal much success
You have to feel for the Winnipeg Jets. They’re still stuck in the Southeast Division, and the 48-game schedule is all but certain to relegate teams to games inside their conference only. That means the Jets, located in central Canada, will be spending their entire season flying back and forth to and from the East Coast. It also means they won’t have any “easier” road trips to cities like Detroit, Chicago, Edmonton or Calgary. We’ll know more about travel issues for all teams once the schedule is announced, but it’s tough to imagine the Jets (traveling secretary included) will be thrilled either way.
If you’re good, you’re good
This is just a way to mention teams like Vancouver, Philadelphia and Detroit.
Columbus won’t win a lot of hockey games