As plans for the 2020-21 season continue to be discussed, there is one item that seems set in stone for whenever the new NHL season gets underway. There will be significantly less than a full 82 game slate.
With a target start date of January 13 and a planned conclusion sometime in July, there is simply no way the league can play out a full schedule. Instead, as the plan currently stands, the goal is to create a 52 or 56 game schedule.
As others have reported, NHL now aiming for mid-January start and we're now looking at a 52 or 56-game schedule, at best.— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) December 4, 2020
But bc of the financial stalemate between the NHL & NHLPA, there have been no meaningful convos between the sides yet on format, protocols, opt outs, etc
Which route they take will determine on whether or not the NHL and NHLPA can come to an agreement and the January 13 target date becomes a reality. If the puck can be dropped by that day, a 56 game slate becomes more realistic. Anything after that leads one to believe they will have to choose the 52 game option.
Either way, this season will be a far cry from a normal season in terms of games played, and that is something that could greatly benefit a team like the Penguins. Based on the current roster, the Penguins will enter 2020-21 as one of the oldest teams in the league, sitting at an average of just over 27 years old.
The forward group alone is pushing an average of almost 28 years old, but that number was slightly cut down this offseason with the trade of Patric Hornqvist and the addition Kasperi Kapanen and Mark Jankowski.
While there is still plenty of younger legs on the Penguins roster, it’s the superstar veterans Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang who may benefit the most from the reduced schedule. Crosby (33), Malkin (34), and Letang (33) all have plenty of miles on their bodies and anything to lessen any additional mileage could pay off in the long run.
It’s no secret that all of these guys have intense training regimes that help prepare their bodies for an 82-game slog, but reducing that workload by almost 30 games for a trio that is so important to the team’s overall success could pay huge dividends come playoff time.
A shorter season also makes the goaltending situation easier to manage for Mike SUllivan and his coaching staff. No one knows what the Penguins had planned for managing Tristan Jarry and his workload this season, but a slimmed down schedule certainly allows them to deploy him more while still knowing he will be fresh come spring.
While the benefits of a shortened season are obvious for the Penguins, there could be one major drawback. With a limited number of games to play, there will be little room for error if they hope to extend their playoff streak and make another run at the Stanley Cup.
Any extended losing streak or inconsistent play could torpedo their hopes in short order. During a normal season, teams can recover from losing streaks and make up ground, but this season the options will be limited should they hit a rough patch. Toss in the rumored divisional alignment the Penguins will be thrown into, and it becomes clear they don’t have much cushion.
Not finalized yet, and still subject to change, but the 2020-21 four-division re-alignment currently looks like this according to sources:— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 9, 2020
If you thought the Metro division was a meat grinder, then I’m not sure there is a proper adjective to describe the gauntlet the Penguins will face this season should it come to fruition. The only good news is the other seven teams alongside them will have to face the same obstacles if they hope to make it out alive.
This won’t be the first time during this era of Penguins hockey that they will face down the prospect of a shortened season. Back in 2013, a lockout pushed the start of the 2012-13 season back to January and trimmed the schedule to just 48 games.
All the Penguins did that year was finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference and make the Conference Finals. For his part that season, Sidney Crosby posted 56 points in 36 games and finished second in the Hart Trophy race.
Obviously there are many differences between that season and the upcoming one, but perhaps that should give Penguins fans a reason for optimism as we approach puck drop in perhaps less than a month from today.
If the Penguins are to take another run at the Stanley Cup this season, they will once again need Crosby, Malkin, and Letang to play up to their ability. Reducing the normal amount of wear and tear from a full season should keep them fresher when the playoffs arrive.
Every team will receive this benefit from a shortened season, but not every team has these weapons at their expense to deploy during the most important time of the season. A less battered Crosby and Malkin can make all the difference between an early round exit and lifting the Stanley Cup.