Having once lived through the worst conceivable consequences of a lockout, the NHL ought to know how to act on the adage of hoping for the best and bracing for the worst.
There is probably still another month remaining to resolve the current labor stalemate and, in turn, salvage a legitimate, relatively normal 2012-13 season. One would still like to think that the NHL is prudent enough to get the job done and avert a repeat of the 2004-05 season that never was.
With that said, everyone needs to be ready for anything, including the specter of the second year without a Stanley Cup champion in less than a decade.
Naturally, it would be most callous if it reaches that point, but if it does, it need not mean zero competitive NHL action altogether in 2012-13.
Even without a repeat of 1994-95, when the regular season was nearly cut in half and followed by a normal playoff tournament, a better-than-nothing backup plan should be supplied.
This author suggests a plan that consists of a series of mini-seasons all confined within the six divisions.
That is, have every team play a 32-game schedule with eight meetings against each divisional rival. Once that is finished, the four best teams would move on to a two-round playoff of either best-of-five or best-of-seven series.
Whoever emerges victorious in that tournament could claim and raise a 2012-13 divisional championship banner and leave it at that.
That way, even if time were to run out before a full-fledged season could be saved, the NHL and NHLPA could keep going all-out to formulate a new CBA even as late as early February. The shortened regular season could reasonably run throughout late February, March and April before the six divisional postseasons take up the month of May, culminating a few weeks before the next draft and free agency spree.
In turn, no one would need to readily accept that they must go through two consecutive summers without any of the world’s best professional hockey in between. Anger and apathy among fans would be inevitably less than if they were deprived of an entire season.
Such rivalries as Bruins-Canadiens, Flyers-Penguins, Devils-Rangers and Kings-Sharks would be reheated rather than kept in the cooler for 15-to-18 consecutive months. Such new-look teams as the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning would not have to wait another summer to unveil themselves.
All 30 arenas would have at least 16 nights worth of hockey-related business instead of zero and all 30 teams would have something to springboard into 2013-14 like they usually do. All 30 general managers would be able to hit the ice sprinting come July 1 rather than try to retool a rusted roster and select from a catalog of lately inactive free agents.
Of course, the NHL does not need to settle for this type of arrangement just yet, but in case of a worst-case scenario, they ought to take it into consideration nonetheless. After the unprecedented nightmare of 2004-05, hockey enthusiasts in all capacities should be ready to settle for anything but nothing.
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