Bye weeks are be­com­ing bad weeks for NHL teams

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - MATT BONESTEEL The Wash­ing­ton Post

On pa­per, the NHL’s newly-in­stalled bye weeks would seem to be a good thing for its play­ers, some of whom will fol­low 82-game reg­u­lar sea­sons with two months of Stan­ley Cup play­off ac­tion.

But most of the 20 teams who al­ready had their byes — five mid­sea­son days with­out a prac­tice or game — have come to the re­al­iza­tion that the for­mat might not be so great for their im­me­di­ate for­tunes.

Af­ter Sun­day’s games, teams have gone 4-12-4 in their first game back from the bye. Satur­day was par­tic­u­larly bloody, with the Cap­i­tals, Cana­di­ens, Black­hawks, Light­ning and Preda­tors all los­ing in their re­turn to the ice af­ter short rests.

The 16 teams that lost have been col­lec­tively outscored by 37 goals, and even when you throw in the four teams that won, the goal-dif­fer­en­tial re­mains mi­nus-30. Ten of the los­ing teams ei­ther scored just once or not at all.

Rust ob­vi­ously plays a big fac­tor in this.

“It’s a sit­u­a­tion, you’re in the mid­dle of your sea­son, it’s a challenge and it’s a challenge all of us in the league have to face. We didn’t master that task. You’re in a sit­u­a­tion where you go full tilt on the tread­mill to noth­ing, to va­ca­tion,” said Devils Coach John Hynes, whose team suf­fered a 4-1 loss to the Sharks on Feb. 12 in its first game off the bye.

“As much as you try, even the play­ers, to eat well and keep your­selves go­ing, it’s dif­fer­ent. And you’re com­ing into a team that’s in that mode of prac­tice and games. A lot of times, it’s not an even play­ing field for ei­ther team. But it is at the All-Star break. We have to find a way, if it hap­pens again, to per­form bet­ter. It’s a new challenge for ev­ery­one in the league. I think that’s where the dif­fi­culty is com­ing in, hav­ing the readi­ness to play re­ally with­out hav­ing a lot of prac­tice time, ei­ther. Ob­vi­ously, we didn’t do as good enough a job as coaches to have the team ready. It’s al­most more men­tal than it is phys­i­cal.”

The bye weeks have not only been bad in the short-term games-won met­ric, but a grow­ing num­ber of coaches say they’re ac­tu­ally bad for player health, which is why they were in­sti­tuted in the first place.

Giv­ing teams five days off — on top of the all-star break — in the mid­dle of the sea­son means ev­ery­thing else on the sched­ule is com­pressed, lead­ing to more back-to­back sets of games and fewer prac­tices so that play­ers can rest. The prob­lem was com­pounded this sea­son be­cause it started one week later than usual be­cause of the hockey World Cup.

“We’ve had fewer prac­tices than any time I’ve ever been a coach in this league,” Wild Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team is on its bye this week, but will fin­ish the sea­son with 20 games in 35 days, told the Buf­falo News at the All-Star Game last month. “We fin­ished nine games in 15 days and we never prac­tised the other six days, be­cause you can’t kill the guys, es­pe­cially your bet­ter play­ers.”

Said Maple Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock, also to the Buf­falo News: “I think it’s 100 per cent wrong for player safety. You’ve got so many games in such a short pe­riod of time and you’re jam­ming in more. To me, the more days rest you can have by not play­ing back-to-backs and jam­ming it in, the health­ier you have a chance to be.”

Most ob­servers feel the league will have to re­visit the bye weeks dur­ing the off-sea­son. One sug­ges­tion, by Flames as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Craig Con­roy and re­layed by Adam Gretz of Pro Hockey Talk, is to have each con­fer­ence take its bye at the same time and then have those teams play only squads from their con­fer­ence in their first game back. A sim­i­lar idea pro­poses split­ting the bye weeks into smaller groups of teams, and then hav­ing those teams play one an­other in their re­turn.

“Ob­vi­ously, it was kind of tough,” said the Cap­i­tals’ Alex Ovechkin, whose team en­tered its bye week on a 17-2-1, run but lost con­sec­u­tive games for the first time since De­cem­ber upon its re­turn.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals head coach Barry Trotz is con­cerned about in­juries when a team com­ing off a bye plays an op­po­nent that has been in ac­tion.

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