Might this lockout be a good thing? Not for the game or fans, mind you; but for the season.
When I look at the Sabres past few seasons, there has been a significant lull in performance at some point. Whether that came at the beginning of the year (2010-11) or in the middle of the year (2011-12), the team has suffered from a drop off that ultimately cost the team wins and position in the standings.
Obviously last year’s mid-winter slump was centered around injuries and horrible play, but fatigue and the grind of the season likely had something to do with it. Since it seems as if a lockout is inevitable at this point, could it be somewhat beneficial for the Sabres to play a shortened schedule?
Perhaps a shortened season would allow for Buffalo’s offensive players to stay fresh over the entire course of the season. The same would go for the goaltending and defense. In fact, shortening the schedule could be massively beneficial for Ryan Miller, whose workload would potentially go from 60+ games to 40+ games. That is, of course, if Lindy Ruff utilizes Jhonas Enroth properly.
There are a few permutations here that serve as counterpoints to this train of thought. First, a shorter schedule would also cause the league to condense games into a smaller package in hopes of keeping the 2012-13 season to an adequate length. This will cause more back-to-back matchups and could potentially create more wear and tear on the players.
Secondly, every team will be playing a shorter schedule. Because of that, every team will reap the same benefits from trimming the schedule down from 82 games. It’s not as if the Sabres are tailor-made to sprint as opposed to finishing a marathon or gaining any sort of added advantage compared to the rest of the league.
Still, giving a lighter workload to any team should produce interesting results. Since Miller is the preferred lightning rod/whipping boy/idol for most Sabres fans, he is probably the best example to explore.
Many fans feel that Miller is over worked by Lindy Ruff. This is a feeling that is either used as a reason as a defense against detractors at times. It is also somewhat of a misconception. For example, he played 69 games in his best season which is seven games shy of an extremely average 2007-08 season. Games played aren’t the only evidence for Miller’s effectiveness. The key is how those games are scheduled and the way in which Miller is used.
Miller’s numbers will suffer if used for long stretches without games off. Referencing the end of his 30+ start streaks that he has gone on in recent years (namely 07-08) shows that endurance becomes a factor at a certain point. These situations could be avoided should the season be shortened.
If the schedule drops from 82 to 72 (or fewer) games, Miller’s workload will be changed. Short of Ruff completely losing control of his backup goaltending situation, Miller could be expected to see a lower number of starts. This would then give him a little more time between each game he plays.
Time would still be needed to ensure Miller and the rest of the team were able to get into a groove, but keeping more gas in the tank for a potential playoff berth is obviously a preferred situation.
This example could pretty much work on any player on the team. Thomas Vanek could potentially avoid slumping with a trimmed schedule. The same goes for players like Tyler Myers or Andrej Sekera who each show streaks of brilliance and maddening play. Giving each a smaller plate to handle could certainly return positive results.
Again, the other side of the fence would indicate that a shorter season will give less time for players to gel and get their legs under them. This could potentially extend scoring slumps or poor play because of the condensed nature of the schedule.
The risk of an ultra-condensed schedule with a plethora of back-to-back games looms large and could negate many of the assumed benefits that would come with a shorter schedule.
Yet, I still remain confident that any team will see more positives than negatives should the season be trimmed by any amount. When you reduce the workload, travel and general wear and tear, you reduce injuries and other pitfalls that come along with the NHL season.
For a team that has famously found ways to hit serious slumps in recent seasons, the Buffalo Sabres could certainly reap the benefits from the labor strife that is threatening the start of the season.