This season's 48-game shortened schedule will impact the NHL playoff picture by forcing teams to make important decisions sooner than they would in a normal 82-game season.
Patience will not be shown with players and coaches who don't perform. The expectations of teams and players are as high as they normally are, but with just 48 games to earn a playoff spot, mistakes will be more costly and each loss will add more pressure than usual.
Let's examine how the shortened season will impact the playoff race.
Poor Starts, Long Losing Streaks Could Eliminate Teams from Playoff Race
In an 82-game schedule, teams can start off poorly, not win many of their first 20 games and still recover because there are 62 more games to play.
If teams don't play well in the first 20 games this season, there's only 28 games remaining to pick up points.
If the 2011-12 season was only 48 games long, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings probably would not have made the playoffs since they started the season so poorly. The Kings benefited from having a full season to play catchup after struggling in the first few months.
Teams that start the season poorly or have a lengthy losing streak will find it extremely difficult to make the playoffs in a shortened season.
Expects Lots of Trade Activity Close to April 3 Deadline
Expect teams to panic quickly if they don't start the season well, and major moves such as blockbuster trades may happen when general managers feel that if they wait any longer to change things up, their team's chances of earning a playoff spot will be ruined.
When superstars get hurt in an 82-game season, teams usually wait for them to return and call up a young guy to join the lineup while the injured player recovers.
In a 48-game schedule teams cannot afford to lose valuable points in the standings when stars recover from injuries. This could force general managers to make trades much sooner than they normally would to avoid falling out of the playoff race.
We could also see more goalies traded this season than we usually do because teams have to be strong at this position to win in a shortened season.
Talented backups such as Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings and Ben Bishop of the Ottawa Senators will have a lot of value to teams that aren't getting consistent goaltending as the trade deadline approaches.
All you have to do is get into the playoffs during a shortened season and you have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, so teams will explore all options in the trade market to make their team deeper and more talented.
Schedule Setup Will Make it Harder for Certain Teams to Earn a Playoff Spot
Since the schedule for all 30 NHL teams only includes division and conference opponents, teams in competitive divisions will have a more challenging time making the playoffs than they usually would in an 82-game season.
For example, a higher percentage of the New York Islanders' schedule will be against the four playoff teams from their division last season.
Matchups against the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers will make up 37.5 percent of the Islanders' schedule, whereas these divisional games account for 29.2 percent of their schedule if there are 82 games played.
For clubs who don't play in divisions with a lot of top-tier opponents, such as the Northeast, Southeast and Northwest, they will have a much easier time making the playoffs in their respective conferences than teams in divisions with several quality franchises, such as the Central, Pacific and Atlantic.
This is one way the division/conference only schedule will greatly impact the playoff picture.
Managing Goalies Will be Extra Important
The decision on which goaltender to play each night, and how many starts to give your No. 1 goalie over the entire season, will greatly impact the playoff race.
Some teams will have to play their starting goaltender almost every game to have a strong chance to make the playoffs, but how many games is too much?
For example, the Nashville Predators will probably need to play star goaltender Pekka Rinne in 40-45 games to give them a solid chance to make the playoffs. That's a lot of hockey for a goaltender who hasn't played less than 60 games in a season since 2009-10.
Making the playoffs is the goal for just about every team, but tiring your goaltender in the regular season by forcing him to play too many games will likely result in him playing poorly in the first round.
Finding a balance between how many games the starting and backup goaltenders should play is a very difficult challenge for coaches in a shortened season. Any mistakes made will cost teams points, which could result in teams missing the playoffs.
Teams with goaltending depth will have a much better chance to make the playoffs in this shortened season because they can sit their No. 1 goalie and still not lose points in the standings since their backup(s) is good enough to win games.