Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

These days, Brian Campbell doesn’t do much on his off nights.

If he’s not playing hockey, he’s spending as much time as possible with family. And whatever spare time he has after that, well, he’s resting.

“I’ll have friends and neighbors say, ‘Hey you want to go for dinner?’ Not a chance,” Campbell said to laughs. “I don’t want to do anything right now. I want to be at home, whether we cook or order in. It has been, at times, exhausting. It’s not much of a life outside of what’s going on.”

The Blackhawks are currently enjoying their bye week after playing 57 games through Feb. 11. Thanks to World Cup and a bye week for each team, the NHL schedule has been condensed this season. That’s offered its challenges, its various effects on players and coaches and differing opinions.

Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he’s had to adjust. The usual way he does things just aren’t going to fly this season. Looking at the Wild’s record, the changes apparently haven’t hurt them.

“There are a lot of tired players and we’ve had fewer practices than any time I’ve ever been a coach in this league,” Boudreau said at the All-Star weekend. “We finished nine games in 15 days [before the break] and we never practiced the other six days because you can’t kill the guys, especially your better players. If you’re asking them to practice for 30 minutes and then asking them to play for 25 minutes, it’s a pretty daunting task.”

As for players on other teams, some love the schedule and some don’t.

“There aren’t too many guys in this league who are big practice guys. We want to play,” said Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn, who added he hasn’t changed his daily routine much. “We want to be out there on the ice. For me, personally, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Fellow Stars defenseman John Klingberg talked of the Stars’ early hectic schedule, in which the team wasn’t playing well and dealt with a lot of injuries. He thought a few on-ice sessions may have been beneficial at that time.

“We didn’t practice almost at all and at that time, when we struggled, we really needed to practice,” Klingberg said. “It was tough because we wanted to keep the energy going for the games. At the same time, you want to get practices in so you have the feeling with hands and feet. That’s something I felt earlier in the year that I needed more of. I was trying to skate as much as I could but there weren’t a lot of scheduled practices.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

With that, let’s look at the Blackhawks.

Considering how coach Joel Quenneville runs a practice schedule, it seems like the Blackhawks have been prepping for a season like this since the 2012-13 lockout. That year, when teams were playing roughly every other day in that 48-game schedule, Quenneville started eliminating a lot of practices. Part of that was the Blackhawks’ success: they got off to a 21-0-3 start, so why practice? But it was also about conserving energy. Even now he keeps his practices to about 35 minutes.

“Through the history of being around this team, it’s proven that rest is important and practices can be overrated,” Quenneville said with a laugh. “Our guys have played a lot of games, our older guys, for sure, and meaningful games. And we find we’re at our best when we’re rested and come ready to play the games and use time away from the rink to get re-energized, freshened up. Sometimes I think playing games is the right time to let it all out there.”

Still, it’s ultimately about the individual. Marian Hossa will take some practices and skates off, saving his energy for games. He’s having a great season, sharing the team’s goal lead with Artem Anisimov (20 for each). This is also coming off World Cup, in which Hossa played plenty of minutes for tournament runner-up Team Europe.

“It’s good to practice here or there but when you have so many games, I think the most important thing toward the end of the year is rest,” Hossa said. “We’re pretty lucky we have that, and I think we also have had good results off that. It seems like it works.”

Patrick Kane doesn’t take many skates or practices off but he has added something new to his repertoire: cryotherapy. In the therapy, be it whole-body or localized, a person is exposed to subzero temperatures for a few minutes.

“I think it has helped me, especially to do that in Chicago every off day, so it’s been good. I feel like fresh on the ice, which is good,” Kane said. “I think you try out different things to help your body or get yourself to recover a little bit faster than other times if you have more days off.”

So has the schedule had an effect on game outcomes, from the lopsided scores to those with double-digit goal totals? Boudreau believes it has.

“I’m sure everyone has theories,” Boudreau continued, “but my thought is, this is why there are so many discrepancies in so many of the games, be it 7-1, 5-1, 6-5 or 8-7.”

It could be debated. Some of the most lopsided scores (Columbus’ 10-0 victory over Montreal, Los Angeles’ 7-0 decision over Toronto and Winnipeg’s 8-2 victory over Dallas) came within the first month of the regular season. Seems that would be too early to blame a schedule. But there have been some outlandish outcomes recently. The Penguins 8-7 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 16 comes to mind. The next night, the Stars beat the New York Rangers 7-6. The Toronto beat the Islanders 7-1 on Tuesday.

“You look at the schedule this year, a tougher schedule. You see a few more blow outs, you wonder if that has anything to do with it,” Kane said. “Who knows?”

As coaches and players love to say, the schedule is what it is. But there’s no doubt it’s been busier this season, and everyone is doing what they can to adjust.

“Sometimes you have long road trips that might catch up to you with the travel or things like that. But even then, you’re not really thinking about it too much. You’re just trying to do what you can to get yourself ready for the next game,” Kane said. “I don’t think anyone thinks about it too much. It’s just we’re hockey players, we like playing games, so it’s a good thing.”

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Ted Dent was another longstanding member of the Blackhawks' organization. On Tuesday, he was the latest to be let go.

Dent, head coach of the Rockford IceHogs for the past six seasons, was fired on Tuesday morning. Dent spent a total of 11 years in the organization; he was the IceHogs' assistant coach for five seasons before taking the head coaching job for the 2011-12 season.

Just over a year ago, the Blackhawks gave Dent a three-year contract extension that was set to run through the end of the 2018-19 season.

"The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization," Blackhawks general Manager Stan Bowman said. "He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best."

The IceHogs didn't have the depth this season they had in previous years, and they struggled all season en route to a 25-39-9-3 record. The struggles got worse after the March 1 trade deadline, when the Blackhawks sent Spencer Abbott and Sam Carrick to the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate). At the time, Abbott led the IceHogs in points with 35 (15 goals, 20 assists) and Carrick was second with 28 points (11 goals 17 assists).

After the two were traded, the IceHogs went 4-12-1.

It's the second consecutive day in which the Blackhawks fired a member of their organization's coaching staff. Mike Kitchen, the Blackhawks' assistant coach since 2010, was fired on Monday. Kitchen and head coach Joel Quenneville have been friends going back to their NHL playing days, when the two were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was also part of Quenneville's coaching staff in St. Louis.

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media on Saturday, he said that there would be change. That started on Monday when assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired.

The move came five days after the Blackhawks were swept out of the first round by the Nashville Predators. Bowman said in a statement that, “we believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward. Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen has been a member of coach Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010. The two go back to their playing days, however, when they were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and also the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was Quenneville’s assistant when the two were with the St. Louis Blues and when Quenneville was fired as Blues coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Kitchen was promoted to head coach.

As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the regular season 24th overall in the league, although that has to come with an asterisk. The penalty kill started the 2016-17 season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the basement. It did get stronger as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short stay in the playoffs.