While many Bruins fans think that a long leave of absence for NHL players could end up benefitting the B’s when the NHL finally starts again, that may not be the case at all.
In theory, an older, veteran team such as the Bruins would be well-rested with bumps and bruises healed along with energy levels restored to what they were at the beginning of the season. To the layperson, that would be a good thing.
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All one needs to do is look at the Black and Gold’s 15-4-0 record in the 19 games after their 10-day All-Star break/bye week in January that pushed the invigorated B’s to their very best stretch of the regular season. With even more rest, one might extrapolate that Boston would be in even better shape once the Stanley Cup playoffs finally do roll around, if they ever do.
All those theories don’t seem to jive with reality, however.
In so many words, Brad Marchand implied he doesn’t think it’s going to work out very well for the Bruins if they get a chance to put a cap on a season where they’ve been the NHL's best for most of it. The months that the players are being forced to stay off the ice is going to take away their feel for the puck and push everybody to the same poor level of conditioning. Any momentum Boston had built up the first five months of the regular season is pretty much out the window now.
Instead, Marchand thinks the advantage will swing pretty strongly to teams with young skating legs that will simply turn playoff games into a track meet with the kind of raw NHL speed you normally only see in October.
Maybe it will benefit the Lightning getting Steven Stamkos back from a serious injury or the Hurricanes getting Dougie Hamilton back from injury as well. Still, it sure doesn’t seem to Marchand like it’s going to help a Bruins team that was sprinting to the President’s Trophy when the season was paused.
“I don’t think it’s going to help anybody," Marchand said in a virtual town hall with Bruins season-ticket holders on Thursday. " The only ones it’s going to help is teams with players that had significant injuries. Just look at [Steven] Stamkos, who was injured and guys like that. Now they have the time to regroup and get healthy.
“But it’s not going to help any teams that were playing well at the time. Maybe a few days [of rest] might have been good, but when guys are taking a few months it’s going to hurt everyone.
“You can’t skate, keep your conditioning up or keep up your skills. It’s going to hurt everybody. Everybody is going to be sloppy," Marchand said. "I think the only teams that are going to come back and look good are the really young teams like Toronto or Tampa. The really high-end skilled teams are just going to have the legs and be able to get it back quick. Older teams are going to struggle.”
The Bruins have some excellent young players, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo among others, but they are most definitely an “older team” with core guys Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Marchand well past 30.
For the veteran Bruins who rely on chemistry, conditioning, physicality and hockey awareness, it could prove a challenge if there’s only one or two games to warm up ahead of the postseason. Clearly, it won’t be the only challenge for the Bruins given the likelihood that teams will be playing in empty arenas and filling a summertime playoff slate when they’re usually out on the golf course somewhere.
Still, the NHL’s best players know that the biggest hurdle to jump over for any kind of successful conclusion to their season is going to be bouncing back from the longest stretch most of them have gone without skating in their adult lives.
“You can stay active. You can stay moving and keep the conditioning level as ‘up’ as best you can. But the biggest thing is that it doesn’t matter what you do off the ice. You can run and you can bike, but nothing that you can do is going to simulate the workout that you do on the ice,” lamented Marchand. “You can’t duplicate it. You can’t replicate it. It doesn’t matter who does what during this break, we’re all going to feel awful when we come back.
“We’re all going to be bad. It’s going to take a while to get it back, so that’s going to be the biggest concern with this whole thing. If you take guys that have been off and had very limited opportunities to work out and train and haven’t skated in months, you can’t just throw them back into games or everybody is going to get hurt. There’s going to be some kind of ramp-up period, but it’s going to be really, really ugly for a couple of games. It’d be nice to get a couple of games before the playoffs, otherwise, it’s going to be a free-for-all.”
Clearly, there are more important things going on in the world than the plight of the Bruins, but the NHL's return means we’re inching closer to normalcy in a world put on edge by the coronavirus crisis. Still, it's also a dose of reality to hear Marchand speak about the extended break and how it’s going to do no favors to Boston’s high hopes for a Stanley Cup given where they were when the season was paused.