Everyone, quick: cross your fingers and hope that everything is smooth-sailing from here on out. An agreement between the NHL and NHLPA for a 56-game season got approved by both parties, paving the way for play to begin on Jan. 13. TSN’s Frank Seravalli shared the news on Twitter Sunday, sending a wave of excitement through the hockey community.
In 2012-13, the NHL faced a similar challenge of getting a shortened season completed in a fashion that would allow a legitimate champion to be crowned. Yes, that season was halted by human error, and in 2020 it was something far beyond the control of one human or league, but the similarities remain.
During that lockout-shortened campaign, the NHL played 48 games, dropping the puck on Jan. 6, 2013, for preseason and Jan. 19 for the regular season. Fast forward to 2021; the NHL will be starting up on Jan. 13, conjuring up a 56-game season. The similarities are eerie, and 2012-13’s condensed schedule paints a good picture of what we could expect during this wild 2020-21 season.
Similar to the season start dates, the trade deadline in 2012-13 was on April 3, 27 days before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began. In the upcoming campaign, the trade deadline is slated for April 12, 28 days before the regular season ends on May 8.
It appears the New York Rangers will be a part of the East Division, alongside five familiar foes from the Metropolitan Division, in addition to the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins. In 2012-13 the NHL’s Eastern and Western Conferences were divided into three divisions, a format that expired at season’s end.
When looking back at the lockout-shortened season, the eight teams that comprise the East Division all finished at .500 or better. The Sabres (21-21-6) and New Jersey Devils (19-19-10) finished the year with 48 points, the worst totals in their respective divisions.
Five of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams that season was from the new Atlantic Division, as the Islanders (55 points), Rangers (56 points), Capitals (57 points), Bruins (62 points), and Penguins (72 points) qualified.
Bruce Garrioch of TSN reported the North Division still hinges on the provinces agreeing on health protocols. British Columbia and Ontario remain the two provinces that sit on the fence regarding health and safety protocols. Regardless of where the Canadian teams wind up playing, the competitive balance of the league will remain similar to that of the 2012-13 set up.
Expectations For the Rangers
The ultra-competitive nature of those teams during the 2012-13 campaign will surely be replicated. With 56 games slated to be played, the 60-point plateau seems to be the lowest total for playoff aspirations. The Rangers finished 2012-13 with a 26-18-4 record, and I expect them to hover around that win total this year.
Overtime points become pivotal in that regard, as forcing teams to extra time could give the Rangers the necessary point total needed for the postseason. To do so, they will have to do their best impersonation of the 2012-13 team’s defensive performance, a task that will be a challenge given this defensive unit’s talent.
A distinct advantage for this season’s squad over their lockout counterparts is the offensive ability. Derek Stepan led the 2012-13 group with 44 points, with Rick Nash finishing two points behind his teammate. In 2019-20, Mika Zibanejad had 71 points in 57-games, a rate he seems poised to replicate in 2021. Alongside Artemi Panarin, this dynamic duo will surely lead to an offensive unit that will score in bunches.
The Rangers envision their goaltending to be a strength, just as it was between the tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron in 2012-13. Lundqvist went 24-16-3 with a 2.05 goals against average (GAA), and .926 save percentage (SV%), carrying the bulk of the load. Biron had just five starts, going 2-2-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .917 SV%.
In 2020-21, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev will surely split more starts, with Shesterkin being the number one option. While neither netminder will have as minuscule of a GAA as Lundqvist’s, both will be stellar, giving the Rangers a chance to win nightly.
Interesting Tidbits and Comparisons
During the 2012-13 season, the Rangers faced off against each of the seven teams, which will comprise the East Division during the 2020-21 season. Although their games played against each opponent’s pales compared to the total meetings we will witness this upcoming season, the Rangers would like to follow the trend they started eight years ago.
The Rangers managed a winning record against every divisional opponent besides the Penguins. In fact, when totaling up the games played against teams they will face in 2020-21, their record during the 2012-13 season was 16-8-3. Despite this incredible success, the Rangers finished sixth in the Eastern Conference, falling to the Bruins in five games during Round 2.
Frank Seravalli of TSN tweeted his take on the NHL’s opening night schedule, mentioning the possibility of an East Division battle between the Bruins and Rangers. If this were to come to fruition, it would be the first time these two franchises met on opening night since — you guessed it — the 2012-13 season.
The comparisons can and will be made all season to 2012-13, as the two will be the shortest NHL seasons most of us could remember. That lockout-shortened campaign provided us with amazing moments and a brilliant finish, so NHL and Rangers fans should be excited for what this 56-game race to the playoffs has in store.