SAN JOSE – Nearly everyone in the NHL is in agreement that this season’s schedule is rough. The World Cup in September pushed the start of the regular season back about a week, and combined with the institution of the new bye week, as requested by the NHLPA, it’s meant more games in fewer days for every team.
Where opinions diverge, though, is whether the bye week is a good idea.
Just this week, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall called it “the most asinine thing I’ve ever seen.” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, when asked if he liked it, said: “No, no, no, no. … It’s been an awful schedule this year.”
The Sharks are currently in the middle of a stretch of seven games in just 11 days before the All-Star break. In a normal season, that kind of schedule is rare. This season, it’s commonplace.
Some teams have already had their bye weeks. The Islanders and Penguins were the first, taking the opening week of January off. The Sharks’ bye week isn’t until Feb. 20-24. Only Anaheim’s is later.
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer didn’t give his opinion on the bye week, but indicated that if it’s going to happen, late February is a good time to get some rest.
“The way it laid out for us, I’m happy with that scheduling,” DeBoer said. “There’s not many happy moments when I look at our schedule, but that is one that I felt laid out right for us.”
Neither DeBoer, nor Hextall, nor Sutter is playing games, of course. Polling some Sharks players, they seemed to like the idea of getting some down time in the middle of playing a condensed schedule. The Sharks won’t even be allowed to practice over those five days, and will resume their season on Feb. 25 in Vancouver (the Canucks have the exact same bye week, so they’ll be in the same situation when the teams face off).
The majority of the current Sharks team is coming off of a short summer following a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and no NHL team had more than the five representatives San Jose had in the final round of the World Cup between Team Canada and Team Europe. Key contributors Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Martin Jones are all headed to the All-Star Game at the end of the month, too.
So, is having the bye week worth it for the condensed schedule?
“Yeah, I think it is, because if you take away those five days and you sprinkle two games in there, there’s no guarantees that you’re going to get a day off in between those days,” Pavelski said.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “If I’m in San Jose I might as well play hockey, I’m not sitting around and watching. I get five days to go back home, which is good.”
It’s difficult to predict how the Sharks will respond to their bye week. Joel Ward preferred to take the wait-and-see approach.
“I think with a lot of hockey, it might be beneficial for us, especially for a lot of guys that played in the World Cup, played that many [games] and have played high minutes,” Ward said. “I think it could be beneficial for those guys, and some guys going to the All-Star Game, too. Hopefully it works out in our favor with some rest for our key guys. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Vlasic took issue with the way the bye week has been instituted. He thought it was the same week for every team, which isn’t the case.
“Weird is putting it nicely,” said the defenseman. “Why do some teams have a break in January when there’s an All-Star break coming up, and we get it the last possible week right before the playoff push? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have it at that time, but everyone should have it at the same time.”
A case can be made, too, that the bye week is adversely affecting the NHL product.
Take one game back on Dec. 18 when the Sharks were in Chicago. Instead of what should have been a thrilling matchup between two of the Western Conferences best teams, the game was tremendously dull for the first period-and-a-half. The Sharks were wrapping up a stretch of four road games in six days, while the Blackhawks were playing their fifth game in eight days, and second of a back-to-back with travel.
Playing so many games, with practice time at a minimum, leads to bad hockey, and that’s a disservice to the fans.
For at least one season, though, it’s something everyone is stuck with. The schedule is a reality, and Pavelski believes the Sharks are handling it well.
“At the end of the day, you get ready, you do what you need to do to prepare, and you show up and play,” said the captain. “I believe this group has done a tremendous job of that this year. We haven’t had any games where it’s just been a complete dud from the start.”