In the last few weeks we’ve heard a lot of conjecture about the direction of the upcoming NHL season. Initial projections of a mid-December or January 1 start have waned. The AHL announced it will begin play on February 5, 2021 – meaning Henderson Silver Knights fans will have to wait a little longer for the team’s debut. That announcement combined with Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley publicly noting a potential February 1 start seem to indicate a later start. If the NHL does go with a shortened season, it will most likely be in the 48-to-56 game range. Does a shortened NHL season favor Vegas?
Last time the NHL had to go with a shortened season, I was with the Nashville Predators. A few things stuck out to me about that 48-game campaign.
What To Look For
First was the importance of every single game. Three-game streaks mattered in both directions. The intensity was definitely up with such a short runway. The players were well aware of how much each game mattered. Having so much post-season experience despite being a relatively young franchise will serve the team well here.
Second, teams with good depth had an advantage. I don’t buy the idea that players are more susceptible to injury in a shortened season because they’re still playing games at roughly the same rate. If you compress the schedule my opinion changes because of the extra stress and fewer opportunities to rest. If injuries do rise, I believe it has more to do with the competitive nature of every night as opposed to a lack of rest or similar issue. That said, injuries happen. The teams that were able to succeed were the ones who could look down the lineup for someone to step up and contribute in a bigger role.
I believe that the Golden Knights are still one of the deepest teams in the league. They have three lines that can score and another that can change the momentum of a game on any shift. Defensively adding Alex Pietrangelo just made the top four even more talented. In net, even if Robin Lehner isn’t ready for the start of the season Marc-Andre Fleury is more than capable as a starter. When both goalies are healthy I’m hard-pressed to name a better tandem in the league.
Third, special teams importance increases tenfold in a shortened NHL season. In the 2019-20 season, the Vegas Golden Knights were 21-8-1 when scoring with the man advantage. When not allowing a power play goal against, they were 26-5-3 on the season. While Vegas played 71 games last year, it’s still a strong statement. Vegas went 22% on the power play (9th) in the regular season, and finished 76.6 % on the penalty kill, 27th out of 31 teams. Shorthanded improvement has to come from “not Pietrangelo” as at 30 his heavy PK minutes are behind him. Even with St. Louis this past season he was not among the team leaders in shorthanded minutes played.
Also when I think back to that season, I remember the travel wasn’t quite as manic. This was due to not trying to wedge in every team on the east coast into the season, instead concentrating on division and conference foes. For teams with an easier travel schedule this will pay dividends as well. Vegas has a nice setup with close access to opponents in Arizona, California, and the Midwest. I also think this will play as a VGK advantage.
The other thing a shortened NHL season tends to do is reward teams that get out of the gate quickly. I remember Mike Babcock saying when he coached in Detroit that he believed where you were after 20 games was roughly where you were going to finish. That logic is especially strong when applied to a short season, because you’re 2/5 of the way through at the 20-game mark. Vegas’ biggest concern will be settling who is the 2C behind William Karlsson as quickly as possible, but once they do things should be settled.
So on balance, I think a shortened NHL season is to the benefit of the Golden Knights. Roster depth, travel and familiarity all point towards a team ready to once again charge towards a Stanley Cup playoff berth, if not division and conference titles.
What do you think? Would a shorter season be more to the Golden Knights advantage? Let us know in the comments.