The race for the Stanley Cup is going to be a sprint instead of the usual marathon, with teams preparing for a 48-game season instead of the typical 82 games. Since 1941-42, the only other time the season has been this short was 1994-95, when teams also played a 48-game schedule following the end of a work stoppage.
With the shorter schedule and teams playing entirely within their conference, the importance of each game figures to be magnified. But just how much difference will there be between the shorter schedule and the regular 82-game version?
Here's a look back at the 1994-95 season and how it may relate to 2012-13:
Will the shorter schedule affect who makes the playoffs?
It's been theorized that the shorter schedule offers teams that didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season a chance to ride a hot streak or a sustained stretch of good play into the postseason. But if 1994-95 is any guide, most if not all of the 16 teams that make the playoffs will be the same as last spring's cast.
Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs in 1993-94, all but two were back the following spring after the 48-game schedule. The eight Western Conference playoff teams in 1995 were the same as '94, and six of the eight teams in the Eastern were the same. The only changes were the Quebec Nordiques and Philadelphia Flyers, who replaced the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens -- and neither newcomer made the playoffs because of the shorter schedule. Quebec finished first in the East and went on to win the Cup as the Colorado Avalanche in 1996; the Flyers were third, beginning a stretch of 11 seasons in which they would finish no worse than fifth in the East.
Though there was plenty of jockeying for position during last season's 82-game schedule, 15 of the 16 teams that owned playoff berths after 48 games still had them at the end of the season. The lone change was that the Phoenix Coyotes supplanted the Minnesota Wild, who faded after a fast start. Thus, while it's not impossible to "steal" a playoff berth in a shorter season, it doesn't figure to be easy.
Thanks to the shootout, one thing we won't see is teams making the playoffs with fewer points than games played -- something that both the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks did in '94-95, when they finished with 42 points. With overtime and shootout losses now part of the standings, teams figure to need about 55 points in their 48 games to make the playoffs this time.
Who has the advantage, offense or defense?
If 1994-95 is an indicator, the shorter schedule could be tough on shooters. Teams combined to average 5.97 goals per game in '94-95, a sharp drop from the 6.48 goals per game in 1993-94 (not to mention the 7.25 goals that were scored in the average 1992-93 game).
Teams shot less -- and less successfully -- in '94-95 than they had the previous season. They averaged 29.4 shots a game in '94-95, down nearly a shot per game from '93-94. Shooting percentages fell from 10.7 percent to 10.2 percent during the shorter season.
One big reason for the drop in scoring was a sharp decline in the number of power plays awarded. The average game in 1993-94 had 9.7 power plays, a figure that dropped to 8.7 in '94-95.
That number rebounded to 10.1 in 1995-96, the next full season, and goal-scoring bounced back to 6.29 per game -- a number that hasn't been exceeded since and was at 5.32 last season. Perhaps because of shortened training camps and a reduction in practice time, power-play efficiency dropped from 18.6 percent in '93-94 to 17.7 percent in '94-95.
The number of power plays awarded hit a 33-year low last season, so another drop would place increased emphasis on 5-on-5 play -- 13 of the 14 teams with a 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio of better than 1.00 made the playoffs last season.
There won't be any 50-goal or 100-point scorers. What kind of numbers will lead those categories?
Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros shared the scoring lead in 1994-95 with 70 points, the equivalent of a 119-point season in an 82-game schedule. That's 10 points more than last season's Art Ross Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin had in 75 games. All three players averaged slightly better than 1.45 points per contest.
Peter Bondra's 34 goals in 1994-95's 48-game season (he played 47) is the equivalent of a 59-goal season, a total exceeded last season only by Steven Stamkos, who had 60. Five players in 1994-95 scored 30 goals, a total that would make them 50-goal scorers in a full season compared with nine 50-goal scorers in 1993-94 and eight in 1995-96, the full seasons bracketing 1994-95. Even five 30-goal scorers in 2012-13 might be a lot -- only Stamkos and Malkin reached 50 goals last season.
Should we look for more rookies in the lineup?
Again, using 1994-95 as a guide, don't be surprised if a number of teams go young.
A total of 54 rookies played in at least half of their team's games in '94-95 -- four more than the total number that played at least half their team's games during the 84-game 1993-94 season (when each team also played two neutral-site games). Another 126 players classified as rookies played at least one game in 1994-95, compared with 141 in the much longer '93-94 season.
The only rookie to average better than a point per game in either year was Peter Forsberg, who had 50 points in 47 games for Quebec (now Colorado) in 1994-95 -- a total exceeded by three rookies in 2011-12. Two other players -- Paul Kariya and David Oliver -- managed as many as 30 points in the 48-game schedule. For comparison, Mikael Renberg of Philadelphia led all first-year scorers in 1993-94 with 82 points in 83 games; he was one of seven rookies to exceed 50 points.
Will teams ride their No. 1 goalies even more than usual?
This one is tricky, because injuries can blow up a team's plans. But on a percentage basis, teams in 1994-95 weren't too much more likely to use their starting goaltender than they were in the previous season -- or last season, for that matter.
Eight goaltenders in '94-95 played in at least 40 of their team's games, and 14 saw action in at least 36 -- 75 percent of their team's schedule. In the previous season, four goalies appeared in at least 70 games, seven saw action in 67 or more (roughly the same percentage of the season as playing in 40 games during a 48-game schedule), and 12 played at least 63 games (75 percent of the schedule).
For comparison, three goaltenders played in 70 or more of their team's 82 games last season, 10 played in 65 or more, and 13 appeared in at least 61 games -- 75 percent of the schedule. That's not a huge difference from '94-95.
Coaches in '94-95 didn't have to deal with an unusually greater number of back-to-back games -- about 19.6 percent of games in the shorter season involved at least one team playing on consecutive nights, virtually the same as the previous season. That figure was 15.7 percent last season.
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