This upcoming lock-out shortened season is certainly about to provide a multi-layered array of entertainment for fans over the next few months. With the awarding of Lord Stanley's Cup mere months away, managers will be balancing the heightened intensity NHL players will display on-ice, in view of the condensed time frame and seemingly imminent playoffs, with an obvious correspondence of anticipated injuries. These factors will determine the outcome of the season.
As we all know, The Cup will be accepted by the team who plays from the outset, from the very first whistle, like there's no tomorrow. Professional teams are nowadays part of an organization, a wider corporate entity, and as such need to be managed as a very valuable asset.
Toronto Maple Leafs' GM Brian Burke, for example, should be able to say with confidence that if all his players iced today simply performed to their ability and met minimal production expectations, then they ipso facto should be able to win The Cup. So, from the net out, in order to continue providing revenue throughout the run to The Cup, Burke can really only be concerned with two deals these days; bringing Roberto Luongo east and sending Nikolai Kulemin west before puck drop.
It's unlikely Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Kulemin, all diligent and productive players, will return to their status as a united and feared goal-scoring line. For the personal benefit of their own new Russian superstar, who needs acclimatizing, Kulemin could be sent to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for some additional depth, or maybe yet another draft pick or maybe Ryan Smyth.
Although we'd like to believe time heals all wounds, and assuredly many formerly wounded players have truly benefited from being locked out, there's no guarantee James Reimer will heroically shine between the pipes this year, truly enjoying the spotlight, as was expected... before his injury.
Will Nicolai Kulemin start the season with The Leafs?
So the scenario unfolding, given the almost-forgotten most recent moves made by Burke, such as the addition of James Van Riemsdyk, not to mention coach Randy Carlyle, and a robust team of Marlies playing with a vengeance, is the question of who would be sent to the Vancouver Canucks. Mike Komisarek comes to mind, and The Leafs have an abundance of mid-range players to package, but a deal remains in the hands of Canucks' management.
In light of this and in view of the recently concluded negotiations, NHL managers have now embarked on their own intriguing season of behind-the-scenes entertainment. They and their teams of administrators, numerous experts and trainers of varying degrees, have accepted the responsibility of fielding a winning team, and are specifically charged to win The Stanley Cup.
Given the limits of cap space, players currently fielded on-ice clearly fill a role that comprises a pre-defined team, and are paid to perform, measuring their success, as are those vaunted AHL players equally expected to answer the bell when called upon, when finally placed into the breach.
Surely teams will be beset by injury, most unfortunately. The teams that can remain competitive, on the way the The Cup, will do so by proving value in their depth charts, and showing that each asset is trained and well prepared to accept the challenges of playing in The Bigs and most importantly perform as expected.
Each segment of "the team" is facing the renewed daily pressures extended to them to one day reach the final playoff round and win The Cup, sooner than later. Armed with a new budget, NHL managers are taking the critical factors of holistically managing forthcoming players' shifts, and playing with intensity intelligently, as the teams that fall quickly behind will see their high-priced assets assured rest and facing rehabilitation early (whether a shortened season or shortened shift).
In the professional environment of professional sports today, managers are constantly enhancing their team's success ratio in the future and fielding a uniquely competitive team by adding and integrating untried, unproven or unworthy talent to the roster early, and in fact moving out overpaid acquisitions in a lost season. Having planned appropriately, the Toronto Maple Leafs are poised for a shot at The Cup, as are all the teams, but the Injury Factor, an element of luck and timing, will decide the fate of these players vying in The Cup Run of 2013.
Leafs' Tim Connolly and Tyler Bozak will both need to prove their worth, and are Wild Cards. If they over-perform, the team wins. Under Carlyle, the team will play smart on-ice, they will move the puck efficiently from their own zone. If key assets like Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel stay healthy, they will perform and the team wins. If Burke brings in Luongo, the team wins.
Let the fun begin. Again.