Let's assume the NHL and the players' union reach a labor agreement shortly and that a season starts in early January.
That's a big assumption, but stay with me. I'm determined to talk (mostly) about hockey issues and not the collective bargaining agreement.
With a new CBA, we would have several questions. Such as:
Will a shortened season have any meaning?
It would make things more intense, from start to finish. If a 48-game season is held, each game will be more magnified because teams have about three fewer months than usual to get their acts together and earn playoff spots.
Who benefits the most from a condensed season?
Teams with youth. With a revamped schedule, teams would likely play about seven games every two weeks. That's a grind for teams with a lot of old legs.
Following Lockout I in 1994-1995, the New Jersey Devils stunned the Detroit Red Wings and won the Stanley Cup after a 48-game regular season, and several of their core players were in their early 20s, including Martin Brodeur (then 22), Bill Guerin (24), Bobby Holik (24), and Scott Niedermayer (21). The Devils also had a good blend of veterans, a group that featured Claude Lemieux (29), Scott Stevens (30), Stephane Richer (28), John MacLean (30), and Neal Broten (34).
The veterans had plenty left in the tank because of the abbreviated regular season, which started Jan. 20 and ended May 3. (The 2012-13 regular season is scheduled to end April 13.)
Should the NHL change its playoff format for just this season, enabling the league to play more regular-season games?
That's my suggestion, though based on what happened in 1995, the NHL is likely to play a cheapened 48-game regular season that will forever have an asterisk attached to it.
Again, assuming there's a labor agreement, a 56-game regular season could happen if one of the four playoff rounds were eliminated. Suggestion: Go back to the old system - one in which only eight teams made the playoffs - and have Stanley Cup quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.
That doesn't figure to happen, however, because the league would rather have its usual 16 playoff teams instead of eight. Teams can charge more for playoff tickets than for the added regular-season games.
Ah, tickets and fans. That's an issue that hasn't yet been addressed by the owners and players: Who is going to pay for the $300 million the owners have added to the "make whole" provision of the CBA?
In all likelihood, it will be Joe Fan. But if I'm reading the fans' pulse correctly, the owners and players are not going to have record revenue to split in the coming years, as they did last season ($3.3 billion).
Jim McGinley, an auto mechanic from Northeast Philadelphia who played amateur hockey for 20 years, considers himself a diehard fan.
If he is a typical fan, the NHL is in trouble.
"Even if a season-ticket holder handed me a free ticket, I'd have to think about whether I'd go," McGinley said the other night. "I would want to know where the ticket was and if it included free parking.
"It's going to take me at least a year to get past this," he said of the work stoppage.
McGinley, 45, said things are different now than when the NHL had an abbreviated season in 1995.
"The economy is worse, and people can't afford tickets," he said. "And I'm not sure if [the NHL] is taking into consideration that almost everybody has a big-screen TV now. I can see close-ups from different angles and not have to pay crazy prices for food.
"It's not a bad option."
It's getting close to the 107-day marriage between Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley.
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