The bye week season is upon us. This is a new thing, and since it was negotiated outside the CBA between the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL, the official details are scarce.
Between Jan. 1 and April 9, all 30 clubs will take turns saying "see you later" to their players for five days -- meaning no practices, nothing. A total blackout.
The Leafs five days starts today, so they don’t play again until Friday where they face the Rangers in New York.
The deal was payment for the players agreeing to the World Cup of Hockey, which extended the season for many of the top players in the league, but the result is compression in the schedule elsewhere. It is not clear that this is a net benefit to players in general. It really seems to depend on when the bye week takes place.
Who will like it? Anyone who is “a little banged up” and gets to heal before the push to the playoffs. Anyone who is not 19 and needs some respite from the pace of an NHL season in a culture where maintenance days are cause for raised eyebrows and healthy scratches are always and only punishment.
Who won’t like it? Coaches of teams full of those 19-year-old players who like to keep tabs on them. Mike Babcock recently said that he keeps to the practice of morning skates because his team is young and you need to check in with them regularly. Perhaps the rules don’t prohibit daily roll call via text? They all live in downtown condos, maybe Babcock could do a drop-in tour every morning.
The other people who won’t like it are the subset of players who like a regular practice routine and resent any interruption, even Christmas. And the famous Ryan Getzlaf Christmas practice is an example of what players of that mentality can and likely will do during the bye week: arrange their own ice time and hold a practice that just doesn’t have any coaches around, or at least visible to the public.
This extra practice time is now common on many teams where training camp starts at least a week earlier than the date regulated by the CBA as players, often the captain, arrange their own practices in their usual practice facility with their trainers and equipment staff all on hand. All you have to do is have someone else act as coach.
In addition to the weak restriction against practice time during the first four days, there is a provision for teams that have a game scheduled immediately following the bye week.
Players will be completely off with no practice during this break. There will be practice permitted after 4 p.m. local time on the fifth day if there is a game on the sixth day; otherwise no practice will be allowed on the fifth day.
We can expect the Leafs to practice Thursday evening and then travel to New York to play the rangers on Friday. They then go to Ottawa to play the Senators on Saturday, so that Thursday practice is necessary. The Senators held a 7 pm practice on January 6, the last day of their bye week. They also get a back-to-back immediately after.
Is it worth it? Is five days of rest for the players that need it worth the bill that comes due right after? Let’s ask the teams who have their bye week right after the trade deadline and leading into the stretch drive. So, it could be worse, and January is a better time than March or April at least.
Babcock weighed in on the concept on Saturday:
At the 59 second mark he says:
If I’m a Player Safety guy, I think it’s 100 percent wrong for player safety, so it doesn’t make any sense for me. You have 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 [games] in, the healthier you have a chance to be.
Jamming in back-to-backs right after the bye week seems like a particularly dangerous way to structure the schedule. It is possible that a hockey team with more depth and a reliable, proven back up goaltender might take a different attitude to the concept.
There is still hockey!
The Marlies host Rochester today at 3 pm and on Wednesday they have a 7 pm start against the Penguins. Both games are likely to be on Leafs TV.