By Paul Townley | NHL betting preview
Just when all hope was lost for this year’s NHL season, the millionaire owners and millionaire players have hugged out it like only real men can.
Sure, we’re kind of regretting that freshly-inked Hershey Bears tattoo now, but the AHL saw us through some dark times last autumn. And for that, we shall be forever grateful to Jeff Taffe’s magic hands.
We still mourn for the loss of the Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, if only for the big-boy language that we learn from the accompanying tv series, Hard Knocks. But that will all be forgotten the first time the gloves are thrown to the ice and the fists fly.
What we are left with is a 99-day season starting on January 19, with each team playing 48 matches – from famine to feast. But with all the uncertainty surrounding the season there are some unique circumstances that could come to define the year that almost never was.
It seems the Paddy Power Blog was not alone in thinking this season’s NHL was kaput. While the majority of the league’s players were keeping themselves fit and healthy, there’s always those that try to get away with doing the
bear bare minimum. And that bare minimum seems to have included driving to Tim Hortons for another box of timbits. Coupled with the shortened pre-season, we could be seeing players shortening their ice time as they get back down to their fighting weights. We’re fully expecting these guys to start fights at every opportunity in order to avoid extra shifts.
While some players took the opportunity to enjoy a longer than expected summer break, others headed to some of hockey’s more exotic corners to find temporary employment. The cream of the NHL tended to head for Russia, Czech Republic and Sweden, while others found themselves in the more lukewarm hockey environments of Italy, Kazakhstan and the UK. All the exports now have to jet back to North America to suit up for their chief employers and how the experience of playing on larger rinks and in different time zones takes its toll could be a key factor in the early matches.
The Harry Redknapp Factor
The shortened season has a huge impact on the ability of teams to wheel and deal. While some teams have reacted by sacking their general managers, there are still plenty of players who don’t know which logo they’ll be wearing this term. Players will be moving cities at the last minute and will have less time to settle into their new environments. This should help the more settled teams pick up some momentum early on.
The compacted hockey season is likely to have a negative effect on the teams with older players. Less recovery time and busier travel schedules means the teams stacked with young bodies are likely to rise to the top as the season progresses. Teams with younger players have also used the lockout to blood them together in minor leagues. The most notable example is the Edmonton Oilers sending Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Oklahoma City Barons. Thanks to some abject hockey in recent years, the Oilers have had a raft of top picks in the draft and having bonded in the Oklahoma, the trio who have been tearing up the AHL could hit the ground running on their return to the Great White North.
The revised schedule for the NHL sees a higher proportion of matches against division rivals than in previous years. Each team has 18 games against its divisional foes, which is an advantage for those teams in the weaker divisions. For example, of the nine teams that had 48 wins or more last season, four of them are in the Atlantic division. On the plus side for everyone involved, extra familiarity in hockey always leads to more fighting.
Play-offs are a Crapshoot
More than any other North American sport, the regular season in the NHL is simply about getting into the playoffs. From there anyone can win, as was shown by the Los Angeles Kings last season. The shortened season makes the playoffs even more unpredictable this time round, which should make them a lot of fun when they begin on April 30.
Hockey’s back, everyone! Let’s party!