Back in December when the league and players association were getting the schedule ready to be released, I put out an article discussing some potential ramifications of a condensed schedule, the main one being the increased cost of player injuries on the team.
In a normal year, teams play an average of around one game every 2.24 days. This season, with no coronavirus breaks considered, teams are playing 56 games between January 13 and May 8. With that being 115 days for 56 games, teams are playing approximately one game every 2.05 days. While that number on a small scale of a couple of games does not matter too much, over 56 games, it means a lot more condensed of a schedule, in terms of less days off in between games, more back to backs and three games in four nights and whatnot.
Now, to this point in the season, no team has been more impacted by covid shutdowns than the New Jersey Devils. To this point, every other team has played double digit games, while the Devils have still played only 9, and they won’t play another until at least Tuesday. Most other teams will have played at least 12 games by then, with the exception of I believe just Buffalo, who will only have 10 games played.
Nonetheless, with the Devils being quite a few games behind some teams, as some have already played over 15 games to this point, it makes the remaining schedule even more of a crunch for our favorite team. The schedule went through May 8, partially so that teams would still be playing 1 game every 2+ days. For the rest of the season, however, the Devils will have the most condensed schedule in the NHL, and will be definitively under 1 game every 2 days. Of course, this could change if more teams enter covid protocols and games are postponed, and other teams could end the year with more condensed schedules from here on out than NJ. But as of now, NJ has the most condensed, toughest schedule moving forward.
Let’s say that the Devils actually start playing games again on Tuesday and continue unabated for the rest of the season, getting in all 56 games without any more covid shutdowns. They will be playing 47 games between February 16 and May 8, a span of 81 days. Whereas before they started the season playing one game every 2.05 days on average, the rest of the season, they will now be playing one game every 1.72 days. That equates to 6 games every 10.3 days. Never mind the teams they are playing, most of whom are really good so far this season, that is a bear of a schedule. Only four days off every 10 days will put a considerable amount of wear and tear on these players, and could lead to more injuries and missed games. The Devils already have had a high CHIP this season (cap hit of injured players) thanks to Nico Hischier not yet playing. They also haven’t been helped by the absence of Mackenzie Blackwood either, even though Scott Wedgewood has done way better than expected in relief.
Simply put, the Devils will need to continue to play above expectations, and now even more so, if they want to compete in the beast of the East Division. They will be handicapped not only by a tough division against really tough opponents with literally every other team, but also by a super condensed schedule, one that requires them to play more games in less time than every other team.
Now, the one positive that may come from this shutdown now is the return of Hischier. The break now means that he has more time to recover, and should theoretically have fewer games lost thanks to this break. However, that may end up being balanced by more games lost to injury for other players down the road thanks to a condensed schedule. If someone on the Devils tweaks something a month or two from now, whereas in a normal season it may cost them only two or three games across the span of a week or so, now it might cost them 4 or 5 games across the same time frame. That will affect the Devils moving forward more than any other team, barring more covid shutdowns. Jack Hughes or Damon Severson or someone important gets in the concussion protocol? Add two or three more missed games than they would normally miss thanks to extra games being played in a short time frame.
This also applies to any potential trades the team wants to make. Anyone who is traded has to sit in covid protocol for two weeks, like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine did when they were traded. That has to be considered in any trade now. The Devils will be playing, on average, anywhere from 8-9 games in a two week span from here on out. In an already shortened 56-game schedule, is it worth making the deal for a player for this season when they will miss another 8-9 games just by having to sit out after a deal? Say Tom Fitzgeralz makes a deal for a player when the Devils have 30 games left in the season. Well, that player will only play 21-22 games with the team after sitting out for the trade. And that doesn’t take into account any other potential injury they get after they start playing once again.
All-in-all, it comes down to the fact that while this covid shutdown for the Devils is a positive in terms of getting Hischier back faster, it is a negative in basically every other way moving forward. The schedule will be extremely condensed to the tune of a game every 1.72 days, and that means a higher consequence for any injury, and more of a deterrent to make trades than for any other team. It doesn’t mean the Devils still cannot compete. If they continue to get top notch goaltending, they will compete almost regardless. But just throw this crazy condensed schedule now on top of playing in the very tough East Division as another obstacle to a successful season. If the Devils manage to get through all of that and still compete for a top 4 spot, that would be one heck of a successful season, and I would be very impressed indeed.