I’ve complied a quick list of categories that may or may not work to a ‘weaker’ team’s advantage during this truncated season:
1. The number one concern on every hockey fan and hockey player’s mind is the conditioning aspect of the game at this juncture of the season. In all likelihood, every single athlete that wants to continue being one is conditioning himself/herself in the offseason; reports of NHL stars going across the pond to play in hockey-friendly countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Russia are many, but the average Johnny Q Canuck is probably hitting the gym/rink three to four times a week. But there lies the rub, for the vast majority of rosters will have players that have not practiced competitively (that is: practice with the sense of urgency that only a season can bring about) since the middle of last year. So even if the Ovechkin’s of the world go out and hone their skills, chances are his peers will be as rusty as my old Schwinn ten-speed is now. Advantage: No One and Everyone…It Depends…
Young teams and equally young players must capitalize on those teams whose system is built around franchise stars, and are spending more time having the team coalesce around a person then as a unified entity, if you will. The pressure is on them and the stress will only add to the fatigue factor. Little guys: attack, attack, attack!
2. Say after me: MUSCLE MEMORY. No matter who you are in this league, a player’s career is one hit away from ending. The odds for injuries this season will obviously increase ten fold for those stars/players that take it upon themselves to heave the burden on their shoulders and attempt to bring victories day in day out. Also, there’s the fatigue issue mentioned earlier, and no other player on the ice is more susceptible this time around than goalies, in my opinion. Groin injuries, back spasms, etc, are in the foreseeable future (Ricky DiPietro, I’m praying for you, brother.) If I were a player, regardless of the position I play, I’d be most concerned about hamstrings and my inability of taking a solid check when I’m not looking. But overall, franchise players must definitely have some semblance of fear in the back of their minds, and who’d blame them. And, finally, what could be simply a two to three week injury, could be season ending. Think about that, why don’t you? Advantage: Little Guys.
You’re not hoping to see guys on stretchers, but then again you’re hoping that Ovechkin, Crosby, etc. get some short-term virus, strain etc. and are out long enough for the short season to play into the Little Guy’s favor. Think about it.
3. I think we’re in for some of the best four-on-four hockey in the history of the game. Miscues, misreads, and pure lack of precision, will cause for tempers to boil. Not to mention that most players will want to make an impact and take unnecessary risks on both sides of the ice. But of the reasons given here, the penalty box issue is the only one that favors the stronger rosters. If you know anything about the game, you know that weaker teams take penalties to account for their lack of talent on defense, forechecking, etc. Once down a man, stronger teams just, well, destroy their opponents. New York Islanders, et al.: STAY OUT OF THE BOX! Weaker teams with smaller sized defensemen, need to be offense-oriented this year. Don’t skate with your opponents, just find weaknesses and bring your handy sling-shot (a la David and Goliath) and keep your eyes open! Again: Just stay out of the box, Islanders, for all the reasons given thus far! Advantage: Big Dogs, unless the Little Guys take heed…
4. Disharmony on and off the ice. Tempers will flare, as I’ve mentioned already, and will only boil over more so when teams that should be winning aren’t. And of all the seasons I can recall, this one has the potential to offer surprises of such a nature. Disharmony will abound when franchise players fail to connect with their peers on passes, scoring opportunities, penalty kills, etc. If you think the Pens, Kings, and Red Wings will simply just go about their business like there wasn’t a 53-game hiatus, you’re crazy. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, every single team starts at zero. And weaker teams like the Islanders must think in such a manner in order to secure the confidence to capitalize on this unique situation that is 2012-2013 season. Advantage: Little Guys
I speak only from watching years of soccer/futbol: When a Lionel Messi returns to his native Argentina, it’s almost always unsuccessful for both he and his National team. The last two world cups saw Messi offer little to no offensive presence, which didn’t shock most of us who are die-hard fans of the game. Messi, Ronaldo, etc. play with the likes of themselves at the Club level, and of course, dominate their environment. Coming home to play with guys who derive from different systems, etc. only cause disarray to everyone involved. Hockey will be no different.
All that is needed here is the belief that you’re opponent is struggling in every department just as you are, and the possibility of success rises. Then again, the great teams may very well gel quicker than anticipated and simply just wreck the little guys. But you have to admit, at this point, it’s up for grabs. Something we wouldn’t even joke about had the season started as normal.
5. Bitter fruit, I imagine, is the best manner in which to describe the tentative agreement arrived to by players and owners. I’m sure that we, the fans, cannot begin to fathom exactly how the players feel about playing a truncated season, what with the risks mentioned above, etc. I can only imagine that the average player is content to be back on the ice, but not without some frustration. Said frustration will manifest itself in all players, and the result can be disastrous to the game. I say, the only frustrated parties involved here are the fans, but let’s leave well enough alone for today.
But for now, frustration will most definitely be seen on the ice, for all the reasons I’ve given here and for all the reasons I failed to mention. Frustration is, in fact, the 400 lb. gorilla in the room, the shadow cast over the season for everyone involved. But it must be the goal of weaker franchises trying to regain/rebuild/capture a fan-base to view playing the game in the city and arena in which they play it a blessing and a luxury, and use such an attitude to take advantage of teams who are overwhelmingly pressured to win and cannot. Play for the love of the game and take it day by day, and you’ll see how the Little Guy comes out on top.
Advantage: Little Guys
Well, in all honesty, I’m just hungry for some hockey. According to one account, my beloved Islanders face-off against the Devils.
It’s anybody’s cup, people. Believe that.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles