NHL general managers yet to tackle bye-week at meetings
BOCA RATON, Fla. – NHL general managers have yet to talk about the bye-week at their annual meetings but a few have expressed opinions about the first season of the five-day break for teams.
The general managers are expected to tackle the issue Wednesday before they leave and some GMs hope that tweaks to the current bye-week format can be agreed upon before the end of their meetings.
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“We’re a middle-of-the pack, or a bottom third team. However you want to write it. We had to fly to Colorado and play a mile in the air after five days off, so it was no good.” Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. “It can be changed. You can stay in your timezone. Maybe every team in the same division has it and it doesn’t even have to be that. Maybe two teams have it at the same time and that’s the team you’re playing. So maybe two western teams have it at the same time and they play each other. Two eastern teams play each other coming out of it, so yes it can be perfected.”
The bye-week was created as part of a negotiating chip by the NHLPA in order for the NHL’s 3-on-3 all-star game format to be allowed. The players seem to love it because it gives them a mini vacation in the middle of the season. The general managers and coaches seem to dislike it because it has condensed the schedule and lessened practice time.
The biggest issue of the bye-week though is that it seems to put teams coming off their breaks at a clear disadvantage with all combining for a losing record. The belief is that if teams coming off bye weeks play each other, the problem could be corrected.
“It was a bad experience for me, Murray said. “Some guys – their teams that came out of it and won. They had no issue with it. I did.”
Also, it has made scheduling difficult overall for the NHL since there are CBA mandated off days that have to be put into teams’ slates each month.
“A lot of our managers were a little upset with dealing with that as a lot of them had to in the month of February, a shortened month but also granting the four days off with a lot of games, so it was almost impossible to schedule. So it’s the first time we’ve actually done that,” NHL hockey operations director Colin Campbell said.
Campbell also seemed to display some annoyance about how the bye-week was put into place as a negotiating ploy by the NHLPA.
“Some players enjoyed it. Some of the results were OK for teams but by and large the first game back wasn’t very good but maybe they’re willing to accept that. Or maybe we’ll go back to the old all-star game. That’s why we changed it. We thought we would make it better for the fans,” he said. “I walked out of the last 5-on-5 all-star game in Columbus, it was so disheartening. And it’s tough. Hockey is good when it’s competitive. All-star games just aren’t competitive. I don’t know what league can make an all-star game competitive. We thought we would make it better for players and fans and everybody else who was at an all-star game and your companies that cover it. That’s what we had to do in the exchange and we thought we could work it out but it was tough for the teams to deal with the five days.”
Some teams didn’t see the bye-week as a negative experience and tried to use it to their advantage. The Minnesota Wild, for example, managed their bye-week well and then beat the Los Angeles Kings in overtime after their break.
“(The players) all loved going away. They all had a great time in their five days off,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I know the all-star break was a bit shorter so a lot of our veteran players in particular stayed around the Twin Cities and a lot of them were able to get to warmer climates for a few days and enjoyed seeing the sun. They came back rested and we were able to win a couple games coming out of the break. I think all the focus on teams’ records coming out of the break probably helped because there was a very heightened sense of needing to refocus quickly and play the game a certain way to be successful. We were able to win two games despite giving up nine goals so we certainly weren’t sharp defensively but we found a way to win two games.”
The immediate future of the bye-week is unclear in part because of the league’s pending decision on whether to allow players to go to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. But even if this is the case the schedule will stay condensed for next season to account for a two week Olympic break. The NHL is also trying tried to put forth an ambitious international schedule in general, which means not matter the future of the bye-week, a more congested regular season slate could be the new normal anyway.
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“Yeah, it certainly seems like it could be a reality,” Fletcher said of a more condensed NHL schedule. “There are certainly years where you’re facing that and we’re all trying to learn about it. What’s the proper amount of rest? How much practice do you need to keep your team playing at a high level? Do you need to substitute video for practice time? Do you skip morning skates? I think every team is going through different routines and analyzing what they do to try to keep the players as rested as possible. There’s a lot of trial and error, but I think it’s hopefully not as compressed as this year.”
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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper
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