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.
Golden Knights Training Camp Day 2 In The Books
Yesterday was a very exciting day as the Vegas Golden Knights took to the ice for the first time in training camp. Day Two wasn’t nearly as exciting, but necessary as things moved forward. Here are a few key takeaways from today’s action.
As of now, Nick Holden remains on what I’ll pencil in as the 7/8 pair with Dylan Coghlan. As I said yesterday don’t read too far into things because the Golden Knights are going to need eight solid D to make this season work. For the time being, it looks like Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague are going to get a chance to show what they can do as a unit. Alex Pietrangelo remained with Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore with Alec Martinez.
Today was more of a jumble of lines as some guys get a look playing up. Among them was Tomas Jurco who took the place of Max Pacioretty with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Jurco is a guy I love for the VGK because this season because he’s a vet who can slide into the lineup on a moment’s notice and play a variety of roles. Definitely a taxi squad guy who makes you feel better about your depth.
Also, Stephenson is still centering this line. I know many of you wonder if Cody Glass is going to get his shot at the 2C but not yet. Stephenson did look good today, generating a scoring chance off a stretch pass up the middle and showing some speed. He’s skating with confidence early in camp, and I would not be surprised to see him exactly where he is now come opening night.
Finally, it was nice to see Jonathan Marchessault score for the second straight day. If he warms those goal-scoring hands up early, it could be a tremendous campaign for him.
Keep your browser pointed here for more camp coverage!
Tom’s Daily: Handicapping the West Division; Stepan to Sens
Tom’s Daily: Looking at the West Division; Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brandon Kruseand his unusual senior season; Stepan sent to the Sens; VGK fans have a new streaming option this season.
The West Division should be a fun, competitive division this year. At least in the top half. Here’s NHL.com’s look at how things might shake out. (NHL.com)
Brandon Kruse is working his way through an unusual senior season at Bowling Green. The Golden Knights prospect is projeting better than a point-per-game so far on the ice. (NHL.com)
Derek Stepan was shipped to the Ottawa Senators from the Arizona Coyotes, giving the Sens more center depth and eating up a chunk of that free cap space they had. (Sportsnet)
Ilya Kovalchuk won’t be playing in the NHL this year. Or next year. (NHL.com)
Michael Del Zotto signs a pro tryout contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Expect a lot of fringe NHL guys who don’t have deals to be competing for jobs this year. (Sportsnet)
Five questions facing the Florida Panthers heading into training camp. This team could be really good. It could also not. (FloridaHockeyNow)
According to Larry Brooks from the New York Post, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the only major league sports team to receive a paycheck protection loan totaling $4.82M. (New York Post)
Longtime NHL player and executive Dave Poulin is writing for the Toronto Star. Here’s his debut piece. (Toronto Star)
Tom’s Daily: New VGK Schedule; Pacioretty, Lehner Busts?; NHL Breaking News
Tom’s Daily: Breaking NHL news! Plus the Vegas Golden Knights have a schedule and we break it down for you; Bolts find cap relief but it’s not good; more
Vegas Golden Knights
Just in case you missed it, the NHL schedule dropped yesterday and we broke it down for you here. (VHN)
Here’s the team/league release on the schedule as well. (NHL.com)
Breaking News: It looks like the NHL has permission to move forward in Canadian cities. That’s a major sigh of relief. (Sportsnet)
Whew! Gritty has been cleared to return to NHL games this season. (The Hill)
Nikita Kucherov is going to miss the regular season due to hip surgery. While the Lightning certainly don’t want to be without one of the best players in today’s game, it certainly helps their situation with his $9.5M cap hit moved to LTIR. (Tampa Bay Times)
Ryan Miller is back with the Anaheim Ducks on a one-year deal and I love it. I hope Miller, one of the nicest guys in the game, gets to his milestone of 400 wins. It won’t happen this season unless something goes crazy sideways, but he needs 13 more to do it. (ESPN)
The Arizona State University men’s hockey team decided to start the season with a monster 36-day road trip. My personal longest road trip was 18 days and that was a nightmare. I can’t imagine double that. As it turns out, the team wanted it this way. (ESPN)
Are you all fans of fantasy hockey content? I can post more of that type of stuff if you are, let me know in the comments. For now, I’m putting this in here because of Max Pacioretty’s featured status as a fantasy “bust” for this season. Oh, and add Robin Lehner too. Not sure I agree, but here you go. (CBS)