Short regular seasons are nothing new for the NHL, in fact they have it don to a science. That puts them ahead of other sports leagues in this situation.
Day five without hockey: I poured a bucket of ice on me just to feel the coldness of a rink once again (plot twist, it didn’t work). Everyone’s favorite St. Louis Blues fan on Twitter @soloucity misses Pierre McGuire. We’re not that desperate yet, but getting close.
While we wait for the NHL to get back we’re filling the puck sized void in our life with whatever sports action we can get. That includes everything from Australian rugby to Mexican soccer, with some fan-less UFC Fighting in between. While the NHL has no official “re-start date”, there may be a bit of optimism for NHL fans.
Out of all the major sports leagues, the NHL might be in the best position to deal with a delayed or postponed season. Hockey’s been through it more than a few times before, with the 1995 and 2013 lockouts resulting in strike shortened 48 game seasons. Obviously the underlying causes for lack of hockey are incredibly different, but resulted in similar outcomes.
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The other sports leagues have had to deal with shortened seasons before, most recently the NBA had a lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, the NHL almost has there’s down to a science. Both times in 1995 and 2013 the lockouts resulted in the same number of games and under the same format. In 2013 it took less than two weeks between when the tentative deal was reached and the season began.
The NHL’s biggest question is does it want to make up for the regular season games lost and postponed? If so, we could imagine they’ll follow the rules of the strike shortened season and only reschedule games within a team’s conference. Obviously teams operate on different schedules, and some teams have played more out of conference games than others, but if games need to be cut down inter-conference games might be the first to go.
Out of the remaining games, it’s easy to imagine that in division games would be prioritized. Perhaps no currently scheduled games will be made up. Perhaps a shortened and completely new “regular season” schedule of only divisional and conference games will take place leading up to the playoffs.
Then again the NHL might go directly into the playoffs. There’s been plenty of speculation around the internet about the NHL charging its playoff format for these unforeseen circumstances, but absolutely none of them seem the slightest bit credible. Some of the crazier ones have a 24, or even more, team field for the post season.
In addition, both times the NHL shortened their season, they used the same format for the playoffs they used for the regular season. Back in 1995 and 2013 the NHL was still using the top eight teams from each conference playoff format. They’ve never had a shortened season since adopting the current wildcard format.
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Short seasons and crunched schedules are nothing new for the NHL. While an in season disruption is uncharted territory, quick league wide rescheduling is not. Remember, the NHL will always have the intention of putting the best hockey product forward as its main priority.