It’s no secret significant travel challenges await the Vancouver Canucks should a collective bargaining agreement be struck and allow a 48-game schedule to commence Jan. 19. What remains a mystery is how the process will actually play out.
The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners haven’t been told what to expect or how their slate of games will be divided between the Northwest Division and the remainder of the Western Conference.
If they have a day off between games on the original 2012-13 schedule, there won’t be another jammed in the middle. That makes sense. And while that may be of some comfort, the Canucks know it’s going to be a grind. A real grind.
No matter what math or personal preference you apply to the 48-game equation, it could go something like this: seven games against each of four division rivals and a home-and-away against 10 other conference teams or five versus each in the division and the same home-and-away in rest of the conference to allow for additional fan-appeasing Canadian content with home-and-away contests against Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.
It stands to reason that dates already in place for the Canucks within the conference — at Rogers Arena or on the road — will remain to ease the logistical load and allow the league to work around them.
That means while the season could open Jan. 19 and the Canucks play that night, they were also scheduled to host Anaheim on Jan. 21 and be in Edmonton the next night.
Then came a seven-day break for what would have been the All-Star Game in Columbus on Jan. 27, but that was cancelled Nov. 23. So add more games there before the Canucks host San Jose on Jan. 29 and Colorado two nights later.
A three-day stretch of no games for the Canucks in February and a four-day break in March will likely be used to add another game or two. It’s basically three games one week and four the next and seven games every two weeks.
Regardless of the final draft, the schedule will make rest and recovery, the sleep doctor and proper nutrition as important as game preparation and execution. Which is nothing new for Alain Vigneault.
The Canucks coach was an assistant to Rick Bowness with Ottawa in the 1994-95 season that was shortened to 48 games because of a lockout.
The Senators held a 10-day training camp and won just nine games. These Canucks are not those Senators, but that lockout produced a Jan. 20-June 24 season in which Detroit won the Presidents’ Trophy and was swept by New Jersey in the Stanley Cup final.
The Devils lost just four games in four playoff rounds after going 22-18-8 in the shortened season. The Wings were 33-11-4.
The Canucks can’t afford the 5-5-1 start they had last season in a projected sprint where improvements in Edmonton and Minnesota will make a fifth consecutive division title tougher.
However, the Canucks finished fourth on the power play and fifth in goals last season and were fourth in goals against and sixth in penalty killing.
“I don’t think we’re going to change a lot,” said Vigneault. “We’re used to a demanding schedule, but we’re going to have to get input from our players on how they feel energy-wise and mentally.
“That’s where the strong leadership in the room comes in. They all have a team-first attitude and that’s what we’re going to need. These guys want to win and it just makes them more motivated because they know how challenging it is.”