The New York Rangers will enter the 2012-13 season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Despite the optimism in New York, the quest for the organization’s fifth Stanley Cup could be derailed, not by injuries, and not by controversy, but by a work stoppage.
By all accounts, Tuesday’s meeting between the NHL and the NHLPA was a step in the right direction towards avoiding a lockout. While the progress between the two sides is good news for all hockey fans, it is only one step that needed to be taken in order to eliminate the “meaningful gulf” that exists between the owners and the union.
As is the case with every NHL team, the question is whether or not a work stoppage of any amount of time would hurt or help the Broadway Blueshirts. If the Rangers are considered one of the favorites in an 82-game season, would they be able to have the same kind of success in, let’s say, a 50 or 60-game season?
Here are some of the pros and cons for the Rangers in a shortened season:
The most obvious benefit of a shortened season for the Rangers would be the amount of games that Marian Gaborik would miss. The Rangers’ right wing had surgery this offseason to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, and the expected recovery time is 5-6 months.
Although any good feeling that Gaborik has about the recovery process would unlikely speed up his recovery, the Rangers’ leading scorer in 2011-12 said recently that the recovery is going well. “Things are going as they should be,” Gaborik said in an interview, “I am happy with the progress.”
Not only would a shortened season give Gaborik the opportunity to play in a larger percentage of the Rangers games, but it would give other players an opportunity to push themselves harder throughout the year. One player who would definitely benefit is the team’s MVP, and reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist.
Last season, Lundqvist played in fewer games than any campaign since his rookie year, and the Swedish goaltender responded with the best statistical year of his career. However, even with the additional rest, Henrik wasn’t at his best in Games Four through Six of the Rangers’ series with the Devils.
The Rangers will go as far as Lundqvist can take them. If a shorter season means less wear and tear on ‘The King’ during the regular season, and therefore better performances beyond April, it benefits him, and thus the Blueshirts.
Another benefit that has been proposed by some pundits, and a majority of the fan base, is that a shorter season will help a Rangers team that makes blocking shots the hallmark of its game. However, this writer believes that the Rangers style of game could hurt them in a shorter season.
Depending how long a potential lockout lasts, the games that would be played would have to be condensed into a shorter period of time. Since this is an unusual situation, the only place for reference is the last time that the NHL played a shortened season, which was in 1994-95.
In that year, the Rangers played 48 games in a span of three months. 20 of the 48 games were back-to-back games, and many stretches involved three games in four nights. And although there are plenty of back-to-back games in a normal season, their effect on the mind and body is reduced over a longer period of time.
Under John Tortorella, the Rangers’ conditioning has improved, and one statistical measurement to prove that point is the Rangers’ record in back-to-back games. The Rangers went 10-2-2 in the second half of back-to-back games in 2011-12. However, in a shorter season the physical toll of back-to-back games would have a greater impact on the Black-and-Blueshirts (as NY Post Columnist Larry Brooks likes to call them).
The other negative of a shortened season (and shortened training camp) would be Rick Nash’s ability to skate with his new linemates. As much as the Rangers and their fans would love to see Nash come into New York and tear up the NHL, their is an adjustment process that will likely happen. In a season with fewer games, the growing pains early in the season would have a larger impact on where the Rangers are in the standings come springtime.
In the grand scheme of things, the Broadway Blueshirts would love to be able to hit the ice for training camp on September 15th after a new collective bargaining agreement has been hammered out.