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Is a Shortened Season Inferior? Does It Taint a Championship?

Jan 15, 2013, 5:07 PM EDT

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The lockout is over, hockey returns on Saturday, and we
couldn’t be more excited around here. That said, over 40% of the schedule was
lost as a result of the work stoppage, which in some minds might beg the
question: is this season legitimate?

Is the NHL able to meet the standard that has been set in
years past? Does winning the Stanley Cup mean less in a 48-game season than it
would after an 82-game season?

I think these are fair questions. Sports leagues are set up in
the interests of competitive balance. They are supposed to play the same number
of games every year, same number of home and away, they even use the same
framework to build the schedule every year – so many games against division
opponents, so many in or out of conference.

Following that logic, won’t some teams gain an advantage in
a shortened season that might be lost over the course of a grueling full-82? Perhaps
clubs with aging veterans who will have fresher legs come playoff time? Teams
in the Eastern Conference who will face less travel due to the proximity of
their opponents?

For what it’s worth, when you check the annals of history,
you won’t see any pesky asterisks – not in the lockout-shorted ’94-’95 campaign,
not in the strike-reduced baseball season of ‘95, not even when the NFL was
using replacement players in ’87. The New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Braves, and
Washington Redskins of those respective seasons are all recognized the same as
any champion.

As for the hockey itself, there’s reason to believe the
quality will actually improve. First and foremost, every game matters that much
more in a 48-game season, which should give it a race-to-the-finish feel. With
that increased energy, every team in the league should have more energy on a
nightly basis.

James Mirtle of the Toronto Globe and Mail argued back in
December that the real sham was playing 82 games to begin with, and that 48 is
even better in fact. He might be right. But when every other team had to
survive nearly twice as much hockey just for the right to earn a spot in the
tournament, is it equal or fair criteria to award a Stanley Cup?