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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pros and Cons of the Shortened NHL Schedule

NEW YORK -- The 103-day National Hockey League lockout gave new meaning to the term "kick save": the owners kicked the players, and the players saved the season.

Having demonstrated that at least one side in the bitter dispute actually loves the game of hockey at least as much as the money, the world's best players are set to return to the ice.

The lockout-shortened 48-game schedule begins Friday, and the format for the 1995 season presents a unique set of circumstances and challenges that are sure to delight some and anger others, among fans and players alike.

If you've long complained that the 84-game schedule is far too lengthy a prelude to the truly exciting Stanley Cup playoffs, the 1995 demi-season is for you -- unless, of course, you live on the East Coast and had your heart set on seeing Wayne Gretzky play.

With half as many games, each contest takes on added significance in the scramble for postseason positions. That should make for heightened intensity from the outset.

"With a 48-game schedule, it's like the playoffs start with the first game. There's no time to lose," said Montreal's star goaltender Patrick Roy, who should soon restore "kick save" to its traditional meaning.

Teams that get out of the gate fast will have a big advantage, and those that stumble out of the blocks could be in trouble. There will be little or no time to recover from an extended midseason slump or injury.

Under the format announced by the NHL last week, the not-so-regular regular season, which concludes May 3, will be strictly an intraconference affair. No Eastern team can meet a Western club before the Stanley Cup finals.

While the setup saves travel time, not to mention expenses, it is sure to be a source of frustration to many as traditional rivalries, hotly anticipated reunions and expected visits by superstars go missing from the NHL landscape.

Eastern Conference fans will not see Gretzky, Russian Rocket Pavel Bure, Brett Hull or league MVP Sergei Fyodorov, to name a few -- a situation that could hurt ticket sales.

Western Conference clubs will not host Montreal -- usually a sure sellout -- nor will they get a shot at the defending champions. That's sure to disappoint the Vancouver faithful, eager to exact revenge against the team that ended the dream for their unlikely heroes in the seventh game of the finals. Moreover, Toronto will not play Montreal for the first time since the league started.

A travel disparity may unfairly benefit geographically close Eastern teams, which will be spared killer West Coast road trips, while teams like Detroit and Chicago still have to cross time zones and thousands of miles to play within their conference.

On the added excitement side, however, Smith notes that every game will be against an opponent vying for one of eight playoff spots in a conference, doubling the potential point swing.