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A Condensed Schedule Could Be an Equalizing Force

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Calgary Flames v New Jersey Devils
That would be Mirco Mueller on the ice.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As you definitely all know by now, it looks like there will be an NHL season coming up, and it will be a somewhat condensed one. This has not taken place since the lockout-shortened 2013 season, which was a 48 game slate which took place from mid-January through the end of April.

From what I was able to find, the average NHL season sees a team play one game per every 2.24 days. In 2013, this number was slightly condensed. The season that year was from January 19 through April 28, which encompassed exactly 99 days. If you take those 99 days and divide by the 48 games, you get 2.06 days per game, a slightly smaller number.

This season, we could see something similar. I do not believe an end date for the regular season has been announced, but I know that they don’t want to be playing deep into the summer. For them to play a 56 game season, with the 2.24 days per game like we normally see, that would put the end of the season around either May 18 or May 19. If that is the case, then this article is moot.

However, that might not be the case. With the playoffs taking a couple of months, they might want to finish the regular season before May, like they did in 2013. That year, the Cup Finals ended on June 24. Playing into May in the regular season would undoubtedly push the Finals into July, which is not ideal if they want to start the 2021-22 season around a regular time. And considering that there will be a break during the middle of next year for players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics, they definitely do not want to start the 2021-22 season late.

Given that knowledge, let’s say that the season ends at the end of April. January 13 through April 30 is 107 days. Divide that with a 56 game schedule, and we are looking at a game being played every 1.91 days. I honestly am not sure the NHLPA would consent to that, so let’s give them an extra cushion of a week. If the season ends May 7, that puts it at 2.03 days per game, very similar to the 2.06 number from 2013. It would be tighter for the players, but with the expanded rosters the teams would be allowed, it could potentially work, and it would also provide something of a normal offseason before training camp in 2021. And most importantly, that could lead to a regular start to the 2021-22 season, which would be vital with the Olympic recess.

If this were the case, with 2.03 days per game, it would condense the schedule a decent amount. Teams would have more back-to-backs, and who knows what they are doing with respect to those bye weeks. If any of those get added in, then the other games around it will be even more condensed, a lot more situations of 3 games in 4 days and whatnot.

Now, I wrote in the title that this could be a big equalizing force this year. How so? Well, it puts a lot more to chance. And by that, I am specifically referring to injuries. If a player has to be out for 10 days or 2 weeks or what have you, they will miss more games in that time span, as most likely more games will be played during that time frame. So a concussion of 10 days could have a player miss four games, where otherwise it might have only been 3.

For a bottom of the roster player, this would not matter much for the team, as that production could be replaced. But if star players get hurt in a similar fashion, it could have bigger effects on the standings. One of the best ways to judge this is through looking at the Cap Hit of Injured Players, or CHIP. Here is the chart from last season comparing CHIP and xG:

A chart like this helps us to see how injuries affected teams. Over 82 games, with games more spread out, injuries can be somewhat mitigated because of days off and recovery time, especially now with bye weeks too. The Pens were the best example of this last year, as they were decimated by injuries, their CHIP being crazy high, but they still managed to perform well. Same with Columbus to a smaller extent. Then you have teams like our New Jersey Devils, who were mostly healthy, but were still quite bad. Across from that would be teams like Chicago, which saw lots of cap money being lost to injury and also did not perform well, perhaps somewhat as a result of the injuries.

But this season, if the games are condensed, injuries will play a bigger factor. It will lead teams with injuries to move down and to the right on this chart next year. For example, in the Metro, if Pitt sees injuries from Crosby or Malkin or some of their stars, it could matter a lot more as they miss more games than they otherwise would have. Same could be said for Ovechkin, Panarin, or any of the bigger stars on these teams.

In a short season, injuries become even more of an equalizer and a wild card during a condensed season. Injuries are a wild card in general, something teams cannot fully prepare for until they happen, but it will be even more amplified when more games are played in a shorter time frame. Now, you might think that even with a slightly more condensed schedule, it should not matter much. A player with a two week injury might only miss an extra two games perhaps because of the more condensed schedule. However, think about it. Say that player is a star, and those two extra games become losses when they otherwise would have been won. That is four points they otherwise would have won, but lost instead. Then, say one of those two games was against a division opponent and that rival now wins those two points. You’re looking at an even more significant swing in the standings strictly because the condensed schedule led to a player missing more games than they would have. Six points in the standings could have a major effect. And that is only for a two week injury. What if the player is out a month, or six weeks? The effect becomes significantly larger.

In my opinion, having a condensed schedule where injuries could play a larger factor than they otherwise would is actually a benefit to bad teams like New Jersey. I mean, let’s face it, everyone expects the Devils to be bad anyway. If someone like Nico Hischier gets hurt and the team does poorly...well, everyone expected it anyway. It was what would probably have happened even without the injury. But there is a ton of room for upside. If injuries happen to stars on other teams in the Metro, it gives the Devils a chance to win games they might not have otherwise, or it might allow them to be more competitive in the standings as those other teams lose games they otherwise would have won. If the Devils can eek out a couple of wins that they might have lost in a longer season where teams had more rest time, and if rivals lose a couple of games they might have won if their players had more rest time and weren’t hurt, then you could be looking at a much more competitive season for our New Jersey Devils. Of course, no one should root for injury, and it might not matter at all if big players stay mostly healthy, but injuries do occur in hockey, it is inevitable, a toss of the dice. How those dice fall could matter even more in a tight, condensed schedule we might see in the upcoming season.

Note: I wrote this Thursday night/Friday morning. I read that they wanted more schedule details completed by the end of the week, so if a full schedule is known before this article releases, I apologize for the outdated info.