There is certainly a lot going in in the NHL right now. It’s getting to that point in the season where teams are starting to play fast and loose as they jockey for positioning heading into the home stretch to the post-season. The NHL trade deadline is coming up, we’ve got the expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights looming just over the horizon. Why not throw in a break from it all, right?
The Wild play the Chicago Blackhawks tonight (Tuesday) and after that game the team will take a sabbatical for 5 whole days. The rules to the bye week are pretty straight forward. Between January 1st and February 28th each team will take a little breather from the grind of the regular season. No practice, no organized team activities, no team meetings, no Words with Friends between teammates even. Still looking for confirmation on that last one.
Now, if your a team on the bye, and you have a game scheduled for the first day coming out of the bye week (the Wild play the LA Kings the day after their bye ends) you are allowed to hold a practice on the 5th day, but not til after 4 pm. A lot is being made of how teams are struggling coming out of their bye weeks. Multiple outlets have jumped on the bye week blues bandwagon. Teams coming out of the bye are 3-12-4 and are sporting a -30 goal differential.
It’s tough to ignore the distinct competitive disadvantage bye teams are facing with the NHL’s experiment to see just how condensed they can get a schedule. To be fair, this is something the players asked for, so really it’s their own fault. Part of the issue not much being considered here is that, this is the first year we’re giving this thought a try. Players and coaches alike and treading in uncharted waters here, and one might be inclined to believe there is a little trial and error in the process of how to get your players up for a game after such an extended break from action.
So while the trend of falling flat coming out of the break is something to keep in mind, it isn’t something I think anyone should be freaking out over quite yet. There are still 11 teams yet to get the fabled mid-season break, or come out of their current bye weeks. Next up on the docket are the Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, and San Jose Sharks who are all scheduled to finish their bye on February 24th. All 3 teams will play on February 25, and we are guaranteed to get at least 1 win and 1 loss that day.
The Blue Jackets faceoff against the New York Islanders, while the Canucks will play host to the Sharks. One of the solutions being thrown around is different forms of having teams coming off the bye, only play other teams coming off the bye, and we’ll get that experiment this week with the Sharks and 'nucks. Of course, this is a sure fire way to even up the bye week disparity going on, even after the NHL gets rid of random 3-point games and re-institutes tie games (yeah, I’m on of those people).
But is playing bye-teams against bye-teams really a solution we need to institute immediately? I’m not sold on it. I’m not even sold on the bye week. Coaches seem to hate it, and because of the bye, and the World Cup of Hockey causing the season to begin a week later than usual, it puts the Wild in a precarious position for their post-season run. The Wild will play their final 20 regular season games over a 35-day stretch, then have to turn an exhausted squad into cup contenders for a hellish post-season schedule, all the while remaining healthy.
The trick is, coming out of a bye and hitting the ground running, which at this point seems easier said than done. With a moratorium on any organized team activity in place, it seems even getting the guys together for a “captains practice” to tune up before coming back for games is on the shadier side of the rules. When the Wild resume games they will play the Kings, who will be coming to Minnesota after a game against their cross-town rivals in the Anaheim Ducks. An emotional letdown perhaps is on the menu, but with the Kings currently fighting to get inside the top 8 in the west you better believe they will be showing up ready to roll against the best in the west.
So how do we solve for the bye? In my eyes the solution is simple. Give them a little extra time off from games, and let the teams practice. One of the major complaints from coaches about the bye week is the condensed schedule making it impossible for teams to practice. Instead of changing who teams play, maybe give them 2 extra days, and allow practice or team activities on days 6 and 7. Now coaches get an extra practice or two, players still get 5 days off, and you don't have to mess with having a whole division or conference on the bye as some have speculated towards being a solution.
Sure, it means us fans will have to go a couple more days between games, it condences the schedule a fraction more, but getting players back into game shape after a week off would be worth it. And besides, doesn't absence make the heart grow fonder? It's not like the NFL schedules games the day after a bye week, and they give their guys ample time to practice coming off the bye as well. Adding days to allow for practice to me seems like a solution to the bye week letdown that's plaguing the NHL.
One thing the bye week is good for at least, giving Matt Dumba a little extra rest. Why get him back in for 1 game when you can give him another week to recuperate, right?