Stanley's Silver Lining?
“It’s not fair.”
That’s usually the first thing I hear when I talk with friends on the nuts and bolts of the current NHL lockout. Billionaires fighting millionaires, while the fans that have remained loyal through multiple lockouts suffer yet again. We’ve seen it before, but trust me, we’ll never get used to it.
But we’ve read all those articles. Yes, it’s not fair. But this isn’t about what’s fair to us as fans. This isn’t “fair” versus “unfair,” it’s (Donald) Fehr, NHLPA executive, versus “un-Fehr” – the league’s owners.
And as exhausting as that pun may be, I miss those laughably bad ones that are constantly plastered across the NHL.com home page … but once again, that’s not what I want to discuss.
It’s painful to be an optimist when labor issues have robbed all of us of so many hockey memories that would have been made in games that have been (and continue to be) cancelled. In efforts of preserving some optimism, I’ve got a proposal for Penguins fans: a silver lining, if you will.
Let us conjecture that there will be a shortened version of this year’s NHL season. There is a chance this could happen – because essentially in cutting the season, the owners are saving the money they’d spent on salary. Let’s cautiously and optimistically say the boys get this dispute settled by Thanksgiving, offering us a 60-game season, saving the owners about a quarter of what they’d have spent on 82 games.
For a lot of different reasons, I think a 60-game season would benefit the Penguins for a lot of different reasons. Accepting the premise that there will be a 60-game season starting around Thanksgiving, here are the facts:
1) Fleury starts a far-reduced number of games. It’s worth noting that so will everyone else – but Fleury has tended to play his strongest games down the stretch of the regular season. These games which would normally be games 61-82 in the regular season will be games where the Penguins are in the playoffs.
2) For a lineup that has struggled with injury and fatigue over the past several years since the Cup victory, a shortened season will provide some relief. This will be especially helpful for players that are aging – Adams, Orpik, Cooke, Martin et al.
3) Some numbers: The Penguins record through 60 games in the past 4 seasons –
2008 – 2009 – 29-25-6 (10th in Conference, 4th in Atlantic) ***
2009 – 2010 – 36-22-2 (3rd in Conference, 2nd in Atlantic)
2010 – 2011 – 36-19-5 (2nd in Conference, 2nd in Atlantic)
2011 – 2012 – 34-21-5 (3rd in Conference, 3rd in Atlantic)
It’s worth noting that the outlier here is the year where we won the Stanley Cup. (And also that in 2011-2012, the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings would not have made the playoffs if the season ended at game 60.) But most fans will agree that the Penguins just caught fire a bit later that year, especially after Michel Therrien was sent packing. The point is that the Penguins tend to benefit from quick starts, and often times that “fire” caught earlier than their entrance into the playoffs, where we have failed to return to the Conference Final since 2008-2009.
Through the past 3 seasons, the Penguins have enjoyed lengthy winning streaks that have exclusively taken place within the first 60 games of the season, and often times their fast start is derailed due to injury, faitgue, and lack of focus. Let’s face it, the Penguins style and personnel does not allow them to be as durable as teams like Boston or the New York Rangers.
As a fan who has been frustrated in past years by watching a team that was either ravaged by injury, physically exhausted, and/or lacking focus come playoff time, the idea of giving the Penguins a shot at a shortened season is a welcome one – not just because it will mean we have hockey, but also because I think their final result would be positive as well.
Personally, I think that because of all these things, there may be a fortunate side to the lockout if the Penguins can get their product on the ice for a shortened season. Whether it’s 60 games or less, I think we can all agree we’d like to see some hockey. While I’d still put the Pens up against anyone in a full 82-game season, I think their proclivity to start quickly and fade works better with them than with other teams around the league, if we operate with the 60-game season premise.
And for those of you that say “I don’t want it that way, it’s just not right,” please don’t lie to yourself. We know we’ll all be back in our seats watching every game. The second the puck drops, we’ll forget about all the petty labor negotiations, and it will be back to business as usual.
Will there be an asterisk beside it if the Penguins should win the Stanley Cup? Perhaps. Ask LeBron James how much he cares about the Miami Heat winning a ring in a lockout-abbreviated season. I can already tell you what his answer will be.
At the end of the day, they don’t ask how you got them … they ask how many you’ve got.