The Islanders came out of the extended five-day break with two goals, and two points. It’s not what they were hoping for.
I’ll be the first to admit when I first heard that every team would get a five-day break during the season outside of the All-Star weekend, I was excited. The season can be a grind and the thought of having that bye week to hit the reset button was appealing to me personally, and sounded like a good idea for the players too.
Then I looked at the Isles schedule and realized it was jammed right between New Year’s Eve in Winnipeg and a back-to-back set with games in Colorado and Arizona. Yuck. Having now experienced the bye week and the few games after, my opinion has changed.
The Isles went into the break full steam ahead, scoring four goals or more in five straight games. Andrew Ladd was looking sharp, Ryan Strome was scoring more and Anders Lee continued his crazy goal scoring pace.
Then, BAM, bye week.
Most of the players traveled from Winnipeg to see family and friends, and to other places in Canada and the US. Some went home, some to the mountains in Colorado, others back to New York for some quiet time. But they all traveled. And then traveled again to get to Denver for a late afternoon practice on Thursday to prepare for their game Friday night.
While the team was running drills on the ice, I was sucking wind, running on the treadmill at the hotel. I know that sounds lame, but I’m not out of shape. I run regularly at home and on the road. But at that altitude, my regular 4-mile loop turns into a walk-jog, walk and an extra bottle of water. The altitude in the Mile High City is no joke.
I’m not trying to make an excuse for the Isles losing in overtime to the Avs, who are at the bottom of the league, but playing any team after you have nearly five full days off when the other team has been playing games and practicing doesn’t make sense.
The bye week was a hot topic before the Arizona game too. The Islanders were the last team the Coyotes had to face before they went on break. However, coming out of their break, they play five games in seven days, including two sets of back-to-backs. That’s like sitting in bed for a week watching Netflix and then going out and running a marathon. Chances are someone will get hurt.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett didn’t want to talk about the new bye week when questioned before the game on Saturday, but after a follow-up, he made his feelings clear. He thinks it condenses the schedule too much and is not keeping the players safer, but in fact putting them at a higher risk to get hurt. Other NHL coaches have echoed his sentiments as well, including Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who said, “I think it’s 100 percent wrong for player safety.” He went on to explain, “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, I believe.”
Butch Goring knows what it’s like as both a player and coach and isn’t a fan of the extended break either. I love working with Butch because he’s able to look at the game from all angles. He, too, believes the five-day breaks in their current format are wrong for the league. But, he isn’t opposed to having a break.
After talking to Tippett, Butch and I continued the discussion over dinner in the media room before the telecast. He believes the players would be best served if all of the Eastern Conference teams took their five-day break at the same time. Then, the Western Conference would hold their bye week together. That way, there would still be hockey, but each conference would play against each other coming out of the break to keep things a little more even. In an ideal world, the East would take off five games before the All-Star weekend and the West would take off the five games after; or vice versa.
When a season spans from October to potentially June, one can understand a player’s need for a breather. But, from what I’ve seen and heard on and off the record over the last two weeks, this current bye week plan is not the answer.