The 2016/17 NHL schedule is approximately a week shorter than usual this season due to two factors. First, the season faced off several days later than usual due to the preseason World Cup of Hockey tournament. That means each team must play its 82-game schedule in the space of 180 days. But in fact, those 180 days will actually be reduced to 175 days since the NHL has implemented a mandatory five-day bye week for each club during the season. The result of the shortened season is more back-to-back games and scenarios such as three contests in four nights, four games in seven, and five in eight nights etc.
So while the five-day bye was introduced to give players a rest, they might not need the rest if they weren’t playing so many games in such a short period of time. To many observers, the bye week is an ironic situation which may actually be counterproductive. To make matters worse, some insiders believe the condensed schedule could be the cause of so many injuries to star players so far this season. The league has seen several top players miss games at one point or another already and the campaign hasn’t hit the quarter-way mark yet.
Some of the most notable players who have been injured early on in the campaign include Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Quick, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Marian Gaborik, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, Matt Duchene, Brad Richardson, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Anton Stralman, Taylor Hall, and Johnny Gaudreau. And let’s not forget Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who may miss the rest of the season as he’s expected to be sidelined from four to six months due to a torn meniscus.
Injuries are part and parcel of all sports and hockey players are used to playing games in quick succession, but there are still those who believe the condensed schedule has something to do with the recent rash of injuries, including Jim Nill, the general manager of the Dallas Stars. Nill has seen six of his club’s forwards suffer some type of injury or another since training camp started. He attributes it to the competitiveness, parity, and speed of the league as well as the condensed schedule.
Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and his Los Angeles Kings’ counterpart Dean Lombardi agree with Nill and added that most players work out all year long to stay in shape and their bodies may not be getting the rest they need. Yzerman also questioned the equipment today’s players wear and if it’s offering enough in the way of protection, especially when it comes to gloves and skates. He believes players are blocking more shots than ever these days, but skates and gloves are perhaps too lightweight.
Injuries are often unavoidable, but they can also be suffered when players are tired and aren’t 100 per cent healthy. With teams playing as many as five games in eight days and also traveling from city to city between them, the five-day bye week may not be worth it in the long run. It would make a lot more sense if the league extended the season by five days to accommodate it. The good news is the bye week has been negotiated for this season only and the league may say bye-bye to it next year.