6 Predictions for a Shortened 2012-13 NHL Season
If hockey fans are fortunate enough to see a shortened 2012-13 season, it could be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory.
A shorter season will help a lot of teams' chances of winning the Stanley Cup, especially the older and more experienced teams that didn't make significant changes to the roster or coaching staff during the offseason.
Let's look at six predictions for a shortened season.
Winter Classic Will Start the Season
As nice as it would be to start the season in November, it's hard to see the year starting before December.
The financial importance of the Winter Classic will be enough to get a new CBA done to ensure there is a 2012-13 season. From a national television aspect, this event is the marquee game of NBC's regular season NHL coverage.
The new season will open with over 100,000 fans at the University of Michigan to watch the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs write another chapter in the history of the Winter Classic.
The chance to open up the season on NBC in grand style will make both the players and owners realize the need to get a deal done in order to save the Winter Classic.
Teams That Didn't Make Huge Changes or Lose Key Players Will Benefit
Teams with much of the same roster that they had last year, as well as clubs with lots of playoff experience, will benefit from the shortened season.
These teams include:
1) San Jose Sharks: Didn't make major changes, the core group will return and the team is comfortable with head coach Todd McLellan's system.
2) Los Angeles Kings: No key departures, and they will benefit from the time off after a short summer.
3) Boston Bruins: A strong coaching staff returns, and for the second straight summer, general manager Peter Chiarelli does not make huge adjustments to his roster.
4) New York Rangers: Without a full training camp, Rick Nash might take some time to settle in, but the Rangers won't play any differently than they did last year.
5) St. Louis Blues: With almost a full season in head coach Ken Hitchcock's system, the Blues will once again be a Presidents' Trophy contender.
6) Vancouver Canucks: A few roster changes won't prevent the Canucks from winning the Western Conference again. They are one of the most balanced teams in the league.
7) Chicago Blackhawks: Head coach Joel Quenneville returns, and so does the core group of stars.
These contenders don't have many new star players who need time to adjust to a different system. Each team has the same head coach as last season, and the core group of players has not changed much at all.
These teams know their identity and will be able to adapt well to the shortened schedule.
Teams That Failed in Free Agency Will Suffer
Any team that took a step back because of free-agent losses, or any team that needs a full season for maximum revenues and to keep/attract fans, will be hurt by a shortened season.
A couple notable teams that fall under one or all of these categories include the following teams:
1) Detroit Red Wings: Their defense has gone from a position of strength and depth to one of the worst groups in the Western Conference. Getting enough scoring from the second and third lines, as well as the blue line, could also be a problem for head coach Mike Babcock.
2) Phoenix Coyotes: A shortened season could prevent the Coyotes from building a stronger fanbase and cause the team to lose a large amount revenue.
3) Minnesota Wild: Lots of new faces and not enough defensive talent will doom the Wild in the new-look Northwest Division.
4) Nashville Predators: Very little scoring and a weaker blue line will cause Nashville to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
We Won't See Any Surprise Award Winners
After the last lockout, the NHL had a few surprise award winners. The leading goal scorer during the 2005-06 season was Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored 56 goals for the San Jose Sharks to take home the Maurice Richard Trophy. Wade Redden also tied for the plus/minus award.
Don't expect any surprising award winners this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos will lead the NHL in goals for the second straight year. Stamkos will become the first back-to-back Richard Trophy winner since Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin won the award in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber will win the Norris Trophy, which he should have won last year, and Los Angeles Kings Jonathan Quick will win the Vezina Trophy.
Unless there are some major rule and/or ice changes (like putting the red line back) made following this lockout that change the game in a profound way, don't expect any shocking award winners in June.
Rookies with Previous NHL Experience Will Benefit
A shortened season would be a tough adjustment for rookies, so players who already have NHL experience will be at an advantage in the Calder Trophy race.
I picked Mikael Granlund last month to win the Calder Trophy if there was a full season, but a shortened schedule will give players like Chris Kreider a better chance to take home the award.
Kreider knows the Rangers' system. He understands the speed and physicality of the game, and he has shown that he can be an effective offensive player at this stage in his development.
Sven Baertschi of the Calgary Flames and Brendan Smith and of the Detroit Red Wings will also benefit from their brief experience in the NHL.
Kreider and the other rookies who have previous NHL experience will likely be more productive at both ends of the ice than the other first-year players. It won't take them as long to adjust to the game and learn what it takes to be a professional off the ice.
We Won't Have as Many Injuries as the NBA Had Last Year Following Lockout
There were a number of serious injuries suffered in the NBA last season because a lot of players' bodies didn't respond well to playing 66 games in a shortened amount of time.
Many players also didn't put enough work in during the offseason, and as a result, they increased their chances of suffering an injury because they weren't in good enough shape.
This won't be an issue for the NHL since a lot of players, not just the huge stars, are going to play competitive hockey overseas during the work stoppage. Those who don't play overseas will probably still skate often with friends or in local leagues.
A lot of NHL players will arrive to their reams when the season is set to begin in pretty good shape, so injuries shouldn't be as common as they were in the NBA last year following the lockout.