No matter how this asinine lockout winds up, the most hockey fans are going to get out of the NHL is 48 games.
In fact, that’s by far the most likely outcome right now.
A 48-game season, just like in 1994-95, crammed between mid-January and early May, followed by 100-plus gruelling playoff games to decide a Stanley Cup winner.
And we should be okay with that.
Here’s the reality with the NHL: 82 games is way, way too many. Even 70 is high given the physical punishment involved.
Sure, 48 is on the low side, and something closer to 60 would be ideal, but there will be benefits to a season that’s less than 60 per cent its normal length.
If you can get over the idiocy that has taken hockey away to this point (and no one would blame you if you couldn’t) this will be an exciting season. Ask any NHL player who played in 1995, and they’ll tell you it was one of the best, fast-paced and most tightly contested campaigns they ever took part in.
In fact, some have already been doing so.
“By far, of all the seasons I ever played in, that was the most exciting and competitive that I’ve ever been a part of,” Kelly Hrudey said on Hockey Night in Canada radio last week. “Not even close.”
That shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Look at how physically demanding this sport really is, how beat up players get and at the travel the Western Conference teams go through and tightening the schedule should be a no-brainer.
This is not the NBA. This is not baseball. It’s much, much closer to the NFL, where they play only once a week and 16 games a season.
Obviously lopping off 25 per cent of the NHL schedule on a permanent basis is never going to happen. This is such a gate driven league that it desperately needs all those dates to get close to the $3.3-billion revenue they pulled in last season.
But with so many American teams not drawing well when hockey overlaps with the NFL season, here’s betting the financial pain of going down to 70 games or so would be minimal. Heck, even in this potential 48-game season, it’s believed the NHL will still earn 70 to 75 per cent of what it did with 82.
Whenever a deal is finally done, we’re going to see a lot of reference to a shortened season being “a sham” because of all those games missed, but the real sham is cramming in 82 every season and allowing the athletes (and the hockey) to suffer for it.
This is a sport that should be played twice a week, not three or four times with back-to-back games in other cities. Instead of having a schedule flooded with game after relentless, meaningless game, those nights when teams play should have a little more meaning – for fans and players alike.
A two games a week schedule would also allow for more time to follow teams other than your own, more off nights to contemplate what occurred in the last tilt and, most importantly, playoff races that started almost as soon as the season did.
Good luck making the postseason with a bad 15-game stretch in a season only three times that length.
All that said, there are obviously some issues with playing 48 games beginning in mid-January. The schedule will be very compressed, with 720 games shoved into 108 days – meaning teams will be playing basically every second night.
Not having any play between the conferences is also a downer, as repetitiveness of division play has been an issue with an 82-game schedule for years.
Then there’s the issue of the Stanley Cup spilling into very late June (or even worse, July).
But 48 itself isn’t the problem. Forty-eight, in fact, is better than 82.
It’s just a shame how we have to get there – a lockout – every time it happens.