Faced with an NHL regular season 34 games shorter than the usual 82 after a rushed six days of training camp, the obvious consensus is the team with the most battle-ready players has the best chance of success.
But battle-ready means more than having the most players who spent the 113-day lockout skating in Europe or Russia or the minor leagues. It means having to make much fewer personnel changes than anyone else and having a coaching staff and its systems already entrenched, keeping everyone on the same page.
“Playoffs are going to be won or lost by teams that are ready to go right at the start and teams that jell the quickest,” said Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul, whose team is not exactly in that comfort zone. (The Leafs are still trying to grasp the “200-foot game” preached by head coach Randy Carlyle, who arrived with 18 games left in the 2011-12 season.)
With only 48 games to decide which 16 of 30 teams make the postseason, streaks – both winning and losing – will be magnified. A slow start because you added two new forwards to your top six and they didn’t mesh immediately, or a five-game losing skid because your most important players are just not in game shape, will be deadly.