The NHL season reached its halfway point this week, which doesn’t even seem possible, since the lockout just ended the other day, right?
The breakneck pace of 48 games in 99 days has made the season feel as if it’s being played on a fast-forward setting.
Too bad it’s not like this every year.
The lockout became a painful exercise in stubbornness, but the resulting truncated season has produced compelling hockey because every game feels doubly important. Owners never would forgo the financial reward of an 82-game season long term, of course. But even casual hockey fans who typically wait until the playoffs to pay attention can enjoy this product.
“This has probably been the most fun that I’ve had in a season,” Wild veteran Matt Cullen said.
That’s because everything is so fluid. Sharp fluctuations in the standings make this season equal parts exhilarating and stressful for those involved. The daily jockeying puts a premium on every game because teams play only conference opponents, which makes those two points actually feel like four.
“You know if you lose a game you’re probably going to drop three or four spots,” Wild winger Devin Setoguchi said.
Cullen makes a point to check the standings every morning. He figures he might as well start his day with a good laugh.
“One day it was three points separating third place in the West from 11th,” he said.
“Three points. That’s two nights.”
Losing streaks are compounded by that sense of urgency. Inevitably, teams have games that are just clunkers. They don’t play with energy or they can’t seem to do anything right. Those nights happen. But teams can’t afford to let those snowball into something worse.
“I don’t know if we could be doing this every year,” Wild tough guy Zenon Konopka said. “If we played 48 games, it would be great (laughing). Maybe spread them out. But it’s awesome. I think it’s just amazing.”
“It’s a Catch-22,” Konopka added. “You don’t want to panic if you lose two or three games. But it’s hard not to because you find yourself falling in the standings maybe seven or eight spots.”
That’s the beauty of this season. Every win or loss feels significant.
This is our reward for that lousy lockout.