The upcoming week is going to be a quiet one for Chicago Blackhawks fans, as the team doesn’t take the ice again until Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers. That’s a solid six days off in the middle of the season for the Hawks, and you’re probably wondering what’s up.
The answer is that the NHL implemented bye weeks for the 2016-17 season, giving each of the 30 teams at least five consecutive days off at some point in January or February. For the Blackhawks, that bye week starts Sunday and runs through Friday before the team suits back up against the Oilers.
The NHL and NHLPA agreed to add bye weeks to the 2016-17 regular season schedule as part of their negotiation on changes to the All-Star Game format. When the players agreed to participate in a 3-on-3 tournament for the All-Star Game back in November 2015, the league agreed in exchange to build bye weeks into the schedule for each team.
Starting on Sunday, every player on the Blackhawks isn’t allowed to practice until 4 p.m. local time on Friday afternoon. That’s a solid five days where the team won’t be doing hockey stuff, and it’ll give everyone from the players to the coaches a chance to take a breather and build up their stamina for the stretch run.
At the time that the bye weeks were announced in 2015, the players sounded in favor of the move.
“I’d always welcome more rest,” Duncan Keith said. “There have been spurts this year where we’ve had time like that, which has been good. But a bye week is a nice thing to add.”
The Blackhawks always work hard to manage the rest of their veteran star players during the season, which is why you’ll occasionally see someone like Keith or Marian Hossa skipping practice. But having this much time off in the middle of a season is a change, and for a team that’s hoping to play into early June, a few days to recharge are welcomed.
“It’s good if you treat it the right way, right? I think all of us, as players, would probably welcome a few more days off,” Patrick Kane said. “Here in Chicago, we’re fortunate with the amount of days we get and things the organization does as far as giving us the ability to get away from the game a bit. But for those extra [five] days – it’s a long season, especially for a team like us that’s gone far the past few years – it would be good to get away for a few days and get your mind off hockey. So if you use it the right way, it could be an advantage.”
Let’s hope the Blackhawks find some sort of advantage from all their time off. Chicago is currently second in the Central Division (and in the Western Conference overall) with a 35-17-5 record and 75 points in 57 games. They’ve won five games in a row, and only the conference-leading Wild have a better goal differential in the West right now.
There’s also another key advantage that’ll come in terms of salary cap space. The Blackhawks already reassigned four waivers-exempt rookies (Nick Schmaltz, Gustav Forsling, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero) to the AHL, which lowers their daily cap hit total for the next few days. During that time with a lowered daily cap hit, they’ll effectively bank cap space that could be used at the trade deadline or to pay for bonuses after the year.
So there’s one area where the Blackhawks are already taking advantage of their time off, and hopefully the guys can have some fun even while getting ready to finish the season strong. Jonathan Toews needs to find the Holy Grail and save us from catastrophe, after all.