Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Maybe They'll Be More Rested?

With the NHL on the precipice of starting the 2020-21 season tomorrow, there are all sorts of predictions being made about who will win, who will make the playoffs, who will succedd and disappoint, and everything in between those options. The NHL's North Division, featuring all seven Canadian teams, has been an intriguing division when it comes to these predictions as the seven teams will battle to determine who is "Canada's team" when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup. Every team will be looking for that edge to help them win, but what if the distance travelled by each team plays a factor when it comes to being rested and ready to play in a shortened schedule?

Professional hockey players should be used to travel by the time they reach the NHL, but a shortened schedule means more movement with less breaks where one can spend a full night in one's own bed or using one's facilities for rest and rehabilitation. This could result in more injuries or required nights off for players whose bodies have taken a bit of a beating in previous games. This is the importance of a well-stocked taxi squad, but the amount of travel factors into this possibility when players need some time to nurse injuries and tweaks.

I didn't do the math for this - all credit should go to Jacob White of Daily Hive's Offside Vancouver - but they went ahead and figured out how many kilometers and how many road trips each Canadian team will undertake in this unique season. Here are Jacob's findings:
Winnipeg, who has the least kilometers on the road and the second fewest road trips this season among the Canadian teams, seems to be in a pretty good spot when it comes to mitigating this possible travel factor. I was a little surprised that Edmonton leads the way being that they aren't the outliers like Vancouver or Montreal are, but that's how this season breaks down. And Toronto's 29 road trips seems excessive when one considers it's a 56-game season.

As you can see to the right, Edmonton and Toronto are the oldest teams in the division for average age according to CapFriendy's calculations on January 1, 2021. Some of these numbers will need to be adjusted with teams moving players to the taxi squads, but they should remain fairly accurate. If this is the case, the Jets look like they'll be in a good position with respect to age and travel when it comes to standing up to the rigors of this compressed schedule for the 2020-21 season. As I said above, taxi squads will be important this season, especially for Toronto and Edmonton if the bumps and bruises start to pile up.

Will this be huge factor when it comes to this season? I would assume it would be no worse than previous seasons, but it might start to bear fruit late in the 56-game schedule when players are looking to rest up for playoff series. Again, these players are used to the travel implications by the time they hit the professional level, so it shouldn't be so severe in a 56-game schedule, but we shouldn't discount the importance of sleeping in one's own bed.

Should you be betting on the Jets and Senators to have better seasons than the prognosticators have predicted? I can't answer that, but I can say that having a younger team travelling less than older teams who are criss-crossing the country might be better in the long run. If there is an uptick in points for either team, I won't say less kilometers travelled was entirely the reason for it, but it may have played a factor in being healthier and more game-ready than the older teams, more travelled teams.

For the old dudes in the division - Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Mike Smith, and Corey Perry - the body doesn't heal as fast as it did twenty years ago. Let's hope they have hyperbaric chambers onboard some of the planes these guys are on this season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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