Impact of the 48-game schedule
Short slate could rob Stanley Cup-worthy team of playoff spot
Heading into a shortened 48-game regular season, you hear the murmurs. Is a 48-game season legit? Will it produce a worthy champion? Good questions.
As we explore them, let's look back to the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils to provide an informative example. With only 20 points in their first 33 games under rookie coach John MacLean, New Jersey seemed far out of contention by Christmas, yet they staged a furious rally under Jacques Lemaire over the remainder of the campaign. Their 61 points in the final 48 games would have earned them an Atlantic Division crown -- if that's the sample of games that were played -- but over 82 games, their 81 points were only good for 11th in the East. There is no doubt that other teams breathed a sigh of relief when New Jersey fell short because the Devils were strong enough to have emerged as Eastern Conference champions if they had made the postseason.
Another example of the type of team that can benefit from a short season is one that must deal with injuries to key players -- for example, the current Pittsburgh Penguins, projected as the top team by Hockey Prospectus' VUKOTA rankings. Considering the continued uncertainty over Sidney Crosby's long-term health, it's not hard to imagine scenarios where Crosby would be available for the 70 games of a 48-game regular season and Cup run, but the not 100 or so games required in a normal season. Maybe the best team wins in 2013 only because of the shortened season. You can thank the lockout, Pittsburgh!
While all of this provides some context, let's look at the biggest question for fans -- what impact will the 48-game season have on my team's playoff chances. How likely is it for a strong team to miss the postseason by starting slowly, and how likely is it for a weaker team to sneak in?