The NHL lockout is actually going to help the Pittsburgh Penguins and the team's franchise player, Sidney Crosby, because a shortened season gives the franchise a better chance to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Following a disappointing 2011-12 season in which the team struggled with injuries to key players and was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, the work stoppage will allow Pittsburgh's players to get plenty of rest as they prepare for a deep playoff run this year.
Let's examine how the lockout will help Crosby and his team as a whole.
Extra Time for Sidney Crosby to Heal, Get Stronger
The extra time off is going to help Crosby get stronger physically so he can enter the new season in the best hockey shape possible.
Crosby didn't miss a game because of injury after making his return to the Penguins in March and was very productive offensively.
He racked up 37 points (eight goals and 29 assists) in just 22 regular season games, and added another eight points (three goals and five assists) in six playoff games.
Now that Crosby can play hockey without feeling concussion-like symptoms, being able to work out and skate without missing actual NHL games will ensure he's fully ready to have another MVP-caliber season when the lockout ends.
Crosby was well-prepared for his comeback, but to get ready for an entire season, or even one that's shortened to 66 or so games, he needs to be feeling 100 percent both physically and mentally.
The Penguins have played a lot of games over the last few seasons, evidenced by the fact that over the last five years, Pittsburgh has played in 70 playoff games.
That's almost an entire season's worth of extra games that many of the team's current players have participated in, so there's no question that the Penguins would benefit from an extra few months of rest.
Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Evgeni Malkin and Crosby missed a combined 116 regular season games last year. Star winger James Neal also suffered a broken foot in January, but was able to make a quick return to the ice.
Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery has also been forced to play an average of 65.25 games over the last four years because the Penguins didn't have a quality backup netminder. He is one player who could certainly use an extended break.
A Penguins team that is well-rested and healthy coming into the 2012-13 season would be one that's best prepared for another championship run.
Top Defensive Prospects Can Prove They're Ready for NHL
If the Penguins are going to win the Stanley Cup this season, their blue line needs to play well and must have strong depth.
When you look at the team's depth chart, after Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik, there's not a ton of talent on the Pittsburgh blue line.
Paul Martin is a good veteran player, but struggled last season and didn't earn his $5.5 million salary. At age 31, Martin's time as one of the league's top offensive defensemen may be coming to an end.
The Penguins' depth on defense was also weakened when veteran Zbynek Michalek was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in June.
The lockout has allowed the team's top defensive prospects to earn some valuable experience in junior hockey and the minor leagues, which will also help general manager Ray Shero figure out if these young players are ready to contribute at the NHL level once the lockout ends.
There are three defensemen that the Penguins could bring to the NHL if they play well during the work stoppage. These prospects are Brian Dumoulin (who was acquired by the team in the Jordan Staal trade with the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2012 NHL Draft), Joe Morrow and Simon Despres.
Take a look at their stats this season.
|Player||Current Team (League)||GP||G||A||P|
|Brian Dumoulin||Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) ||6||0||2||2|
|Joe Morrow||Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)||6||1||1||2|
|Simon Despres||Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)||7||0||2||2|
It's very possible that Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma could need a player or two this season to strengthen his blue line because of injuries or poor performances, and all three of the prospects mentioned above are ready to take the next step in their careers.