By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) You have to come flying out of the gate in a 48-game NHL season.
That’s the standard line of nearly every hockey analyst who has written about the end of the hockey lockout and the return of NHL action.
Sounds great. But there’s one problem. It’s not true.
The 1994-95 season was also a truncated 48-game affair. It was the first of Gary Bettman’s three lockouts and lopping off more than 30 games from the schedule left team executives, coaches, players and fans with the idea that any team that wanted to make the playoffs – let alone win the championship – had to start the season as if they were blasted out of a shotgun if they wanted to be successful.
Months after that season started, the NHL awarded the Stanley Cup to the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils started that season by going 0-3-1. However, they ended the year by sweeping the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals.
So forget the dime-store conclusions. You don’t have to come out of the gate knocking every opponent for a loop. There’s time to make up for a bad start if you have the talent on hand to turn things around.
The Blackhawks just might, but they have the same problem that they did a year ago when they were eliminated by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs. Corey Crawford in the net is not exactly a pillar of strength.
Crawford had a 2.72 goals against average and an ordinary .903 save percentage last year. He did not have one shutout. However, it was the two soft overtime goals he gave up to the Coyotes in Games 3 and 4 of the first-round playoff series that were his biggest indictment. Instead of coming up big in the clutch, he let in two soft shots that basically assured the Hawks’ demise.
But the core players should give the Blackhawks an advantage most nights. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane provide a pretty good core for this team.
The Blackhawks are going to be excellent entertainment most nights for fans who will forget their lockout-induced anger at hockey.
Hockey has become the lockout sport, particularly under Little Gary Bettman’s leadership. He has been on the job for 20 years and he has locked out players three times. The 2004-05 lockout cost the sport a full season, while the current lockout and the 1994-95 version cost the NHL nearly half of its regular-season games.
Hockey fans are sick of getting locked out and they make pledges that they won’t go to games, won’t watch games on TV and won’t drink the beer when they do return.
Don’t believe any of it. Hockey fans love their sport and verbal threats in November and December won’t mean a thing once they start playing.
The games should be explosive and intense affairs. Blackhawks fans won’t see teams like Montreal, the New York Rangers or the Philadelphia Flyers. They will only see Western Conference foes.
The lack of travel will almost certainly result in a similar schedule to the one the NBA imposed on its teams last year. Teams will play more back-to-back games than they would in a normal season.
There will be serious confrontation on an every-night basis. The games will be intense and the uniqueness of the shortened season will create memorable matchups.
Critics complain that a 48-game season lacks validity.
It does not. They will not put an asterisk next to the Stanley Cup winner’s name – and they shouldn’t. The championship sprint is not any less meaningful than the championship marathon.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.