Is a Shortened Season Inferior? Does It Taint a Championship?

Is a Shortened Season Inferior? Does It Taint a Championship?

The lockout is over, hockey returns on Saturday, and we
couldn’t be more excited around here. That said, over 40% of the schedule was
lost as a result of the work stoppage, which in some minds might beg the
question: is this season legitimate?

Is the NHL able to meet the standard that has been set in
years past? Does winning the Stanley Cup mean less in a 48-game season than it
would after an 82-game season?

I think these are fair questions. Sports leagues are set up in
the interests of competitive balance. They are supposed to play the same number
of games every year, same number of home and away, they even use the same
framework to build the schedule every year – so many games against division
opponents, so many in or out of conference.

Following that logic, won’t some teams gain an advantage in
a shortened season that might be lost over the course of a grueling full-82? Perhaps
clubs with aging veterans who will have fresher legs come playoff time? Teams
in the Eastern Conference who will face less travel due to the proximity of
their opponents?

For what it’s worth, when you check the annals of history,
you won’t see any pesky asterisks – not in the lockout-shorted ’94-’95 campaign,
not in the strike-reduced baseball season of ‘95, not even when the NFL was
using replacement players in ’87. The New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Braves, and
Washington Redskins of those respective seasons are all recognized the same as
any champion.

As for the hockey itself, there’s reason to believe the
quality will actually improve. First and foremost, every game matters that much
more in a 48-game season, which should give it a race-to-the-finish feel. With
that increased energy, every team in the league should have more energy on a
nightly basis.

James Mirtle of the Toronto Globe and Mail argued back in
December that the real sham was playing 82 games to begin with, and that 48 is
even better in fact. He might be right. But when every other team had to
survive nearly twice as much hockey just for the right to earn a spot in the
tournament, is it equal or fair criteria to award a Stanley Cup?

Ben Simmons, Robert Covington react to Ersan Ilyasova trade

Ben Simmons, Robert Covington react to Ersan Ilyasova trade

On Wednesday, the Sixers traded Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks in exchange for Tiago Splitter and a 2017 second-round pick, as well as the option to swap 2017 second-round selections (see story).

"I want to thank Ersan Ilyasova for his positive contributions to this organization both on and off the basketball court," president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said in a statement. "Ersan is a true professional whose daily examples of hard work, focus and consistency have helped facilitate the ongoing growth of our program and culture."

The Sixers took to Instagram to express their appreciation for Ilyasova’s leadership. Ilyasova quickly embraced the role of a veteran go-to when he was traded to the Sixers in early November. Both posts below exemplify his team-first mentality.

✊🏼 A true Pro @ersanilyasova7

A post shared by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Thanks for being a great teammate @ersanilyasova7. Wishing you the best in ATL

A post shared by Rob Covington (@atf_33) on

Best of NHL: Rickard Rakell, Ducks snap Bruins' win streak at 4

Best of NHL: Rickard Rakell, Ducks snap Bruins' win streak at 4

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rickard Rakell broke a tie with his second goal with 2:34 to play, and the Anaheim Ducks snapped Boston's four-game winning streak under new coach Bruce Cassidy with a 5-3 victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night.

Rakell also scored in the second period for the Ducks and has 24 goals in his outstanding season. Ondrej Kase, Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano also scored for Anaheim, and Jonathan Bernier made 26 saves in his first victory since Jan. 23.

Frank Vatrano scored the tying goal in the third period for the Bruins, who hadn't lost since Cassidy replaced Claude Julien on Feb. 7. Defensemen Brandon Carlo and Zdeno Chara scored early goals, and Tuukka Rask stopped 20 shots.

Anaheim beat Boston for the seventh straight time (see full recap).

Rare goal from Russell lifts Oilers over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Russell's goal with 7:58 left was his first in more than a year and lifted the Edmonton Oilers over Florida 4-3 on Wednesday night to snap the Panthers' five-game winning streak.

Russell's goal was his first since Feb. 11, 2016, when he played for Calgary. He went goalless in his first 48 games with the Oilers.

Fellow defenseman Oscar Klefbom also scored for Edmonton, as did forwards Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Connor McDavid, who came into the night leading the NHL scoring race, had an assist on Russell's goal.

Aleksander Barkov, Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Florida. Keith Yandle had two assists for the Panthers, giving him 400 points for his career.

Cam Talbot stopped 31 shots for the Oilers, who have won their last eight games at Florida -- last losing on the Panthers' ice in 2002. James Reimer made 31 saves for the Panthers, who just completed a 5-0-0 road trip (see full recap).