It is almost January and there has still yet to be an NHL game played this year as the owners and players still can not seem to agree on a new CBA. This has many believing that there will be no NHL season at all this year but yesterday brought a small glimmer of hope with the league drawing up a new CBA proposal that would give us a shortened season. Whether or not this proposal gets accepted is another story but we were going to be looking at a shortened year one way or another, so that alone is worth discussing. One of the old adages in sports is that the wins early in the season count as much as the ones later in the year, and this is going to be even more true if there is a season of 48-games.
In a full, 82-game season, banking wins in the early part of the year is always important because it puts less stress on teams later on if they are gunning for a playoff spot. If the NHL does end up having a shortened season, then each win is going to be more important and a prolonged streak could put a team in or out of a playoff spot. Remember the good stretches that the Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs had in the first half of last season? They both ended up missing the playoffs, but there is a good chance that they would make the final cut in a shortened season if they start the year off a strong note again. Every game is going to mean a lot more and it should make things much more exciting but there are some problems that could arise, especially for the Hurricanes.
While it’s true that a shortened season will open the door for a lot of different teams to make the playoffs, some teams might be cut out of the chase early if they have a slow start. I’m sure most want to block the final days of Paul Maurice out of their minds, but Carolina endured a very tough stretch of games last November where they went 4-10-1 and were all but eliminated from playoff contention before the All-Star Break after going only 5-7-2 in December. The Canes have never been a team to come storming out of the gate, but they will need to play stronger than they have in October & November of recent years because one bad losing streak could put them on the outside of the playoff picture before the mid-way point. On the other hand, the Canes may start the year off a high note and it could put them in a better position to make the playoffs. That would be nice, but it’s worth noting that the Canes are 35-53-14 in October & November over the last four seasons, so hot starts are not what this team is known for.
This should be a completely different Hurricanes team than we’ve seen compared to years past, so we could be in for a surprise but the amount of new blood coming in might be a disadvantage to the Hurricanes. All teams are going to go through an abbreviated training camp and the Hurricanes new acquisitions such as Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin are going to need to take time to get used to Kirk Muller’s system. Then you have the younger players like Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Jeremy Welsh and Zac Dalpe who will be fighting for roster spots which will put a lot of stress on Muller to make a few quick decisions in a short amount of time. It’s also worth mentioning that most of these prospects are in the final years of restricted free agency and the Canes won’t have much time to evaluate them as they would in a full-season. This will also be Muller’s first full year as a head coach in the NHL and the Hurricanes may not be as fully prepared as other teams who have been running the same system for years. The team seemed to adjust to Muller nicely last season, so I would like to think that this won’t be a problem but you never know, especially with two new key players added.
The one comforting thing in all of this is that every other team is probably having similar questions about their team heading into this season, should there be one. The Hurricanes recent history of bad starts is concerning, yes but having a different coach and new players here is enough for me to offset this for now. They are just going to have to do what every other team is doing and make the best of whatever comes of this new CBA agreement. If there is a season, then the Hurricanes are going to have a very brief time to prepare themselves and get ready to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders, because a slow start could doom them early this time around.