Based on some late developments on Monday night it appears as if the NHL is now targeting a mid-January start for the 2020-21 regular season with a shortened, 56-game regular season schedule.
That schedule would include a two-week training camp and zero exhibition games.
There are still a lot of things to settle, from protocols, to opt-outs, to the schedule itself, to potential hubs, to the temporary divisional alignment, to the playoffs, and every other logistical thing that comes from trying to play a professional sport during a global pandemic, but mid-January seems to be the new target. Especially now that the league and the players have agreed not to change any of the financials in the recently agreed to CBA (that is another development on Monday night, they will not change any of the financials).
So what would a shortened regular season schedule mean for this particular Penguins team?
Let’s start with this: Where the Penguins have stood out after 56 games in each of the past six seasons.
2014-15: 32-15-9 (73 points)
2015-16: 29-19-8 (66 points)
2016-17: 36-13-7 (79 points)
2017-18: 30-22-4 (64 points)
2018-19: 29-20-7 (65 points)
2019-20: 35-15-6 (76 points)
In three of those seasons (2015-16, 2017-18, and 2018-19) those were 93-96 point paces over an 82 game season at that point, which is usually a fringe playoff team (or even outside of the playoffs). Those teams ended up getting hot during the stretch run as the playoffs neared.
The other three were far better. The 2016-17 team remained hot and carried that to a Stanley Cup win, the 2019-20 was part of the paused season, while the 2014-15 team faded down the stretch and needed to win the regular season finale to actually make the playoffs.
No matter what the divisional alignment looks like, I am confident in the Penguins’ ability to make the playoffs in a 56-or 82-game season. This is still a good team. It is just a matter of where they would finish in the standings and what they would look like on their way there.
If anything, I almost think the shortened season could end up working in their favor.
For one, this is an older roster at the top. The best players are in their mid-30s and have a ton of mileage on the tires.
Most of this team has played together for a while and should not need a long training camp or any exhibition games to really start to click.
It might hurt some of the new players (Kasperi Kapanen, Mike Matheson, Mark Jankowski, Cody Ceci, etc.) and cause a headache in figuring out the goalie situation, but overall I do not think it would hurt them all that much.
It also seems reasonable to think that a shorter regular season could help them come playoff time for that very reason. An older roster at the top with a lot of key players that have a lot of mileage on the tires. We have seen this team start to hit its stride around Game 60 or so and play well down the stretch.
Well, in this format “the stretch” would quite literally be the playoffs. There might be a lot to be said for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang getting to start the postseason after only 56 games instead of 82 games. Less wear and tear, presumably an easier travel schedule with hubs or re-aligned divisions
That, to me, seems to be where the Penguins could benefit here. They still have some flaws to work out, but the possibility of going into the playoffs with a fresher, healthier roster seems like a far greater possibility in a 56-game season than an 82-game season.
Even though it ended with a thud against a great Boston team, one of my big takeaways from the 2012-13 Stanley Cup Playoffs was how much better they seemed because every team — including the Penguins — was fresh going into them and was not coming off an 82-game slog of a season.
What are your thoughts?
How much would the lack of a preseason and a shortened training camp hurt?
How much of a benefit would it be to have a shortened regular season going into the playoffs?