One of the many topics covered at the Empire Club of Canada talk with Elliotte Friedman was the possibility of the NHL following the NBA and other major sports leagues in allowing its star players to have some rest.
When poised with the question, Dubas game some interesting insight to where he sees the league, and hockey in general, heading when it comes to giving certain players days off.
“It’s interesting, I think you already see it with goaltenders. There are very few goalies now that will play in back-to-back games. Goalies are playing all 60 minutes of the game and there’s a strong statistical history that shows that you can expect a certain drop-off in performance if they play consecutive nights back-to-back.
So that’s an easier sell, plus in recent times there’s been a lot of evidence of goaltenders reaching a certain threshold, like pitchers in baseball. Putting themselves at risk for having success in the playoffs.”
Goalies, like pitchers in baseball, is a key position that a team’s season can completely live or die on. So it makes sense to take into consideration the player’s health and whether or not to risk it throughout the season.
Dubas continues on the subject:
“It’s kind of become conventional wisdom among goaltenders but it’s not yet there among forwards and defenceman. I think as it becomes more pervasive in other sports, whether that’s innings limited in baseball among pitchers, whether that’s the way basketball teams are handling their situations with regards to back-to-back games and resting their star players. I think it will certainly become more pervasive in hockey.”
Specifically mentioning that it might be explored more within hockey for forwards and defencemen is significant. If a team is in a secure position or knows that they are strong enough to get into playoff position no matter what, then why not rest your star player for a couple games against the worst teams in the league?
The one thing different in the NHL compared to the other leagues, as Dubas mentions, is roster space.
“The one element I would say would hinder hockey would be the number of players on our roster that aren’t playing or aren’t playing as much, is not as large as it is in basketball. In baseball, there’s no salary cap, so if we want to sit out a star player that’s making a higher percentage of our available cap dollars to bring in somebody else, that just eats away at what’s available. There are just all the different elements that are in play that I think will affect hockey.”
That is a key part as to why the NHL might be hesitant to rest some players. As it pertains to the Leafs, if the whole roster is healthy, they usually have Martin Marincin or Justin Holl as a healthy scratch, or Josh Leivo earlier on. But to have the luxury of a 13th forward or a 7th defenceman is not common for some playoff-bound teams.
Of course having those extra players also require to have some space within your cap, as Dubas puts it, it just “eats away at what’s available.”
Where you are in the season matters as well. Especially if a team has already secured a playoff position, it’s easy to think that resting a star player is a possibility.
As Dubas puts it:
“But I certainly think that especially as you get later in the year and your position becomes more secure, or teams that become competitive year-after-year – like the San Antonio Spurs, I don’t know if they were the first team to do it, but they’re the first team that sticks out in my mind in basketball. When you’ve had twenty years of being a contending team, and you’re Greg Popovich. But I do think it will be one thing that moves over to hockey in time.”
History and context is a massive thing when it comes to resting players and especially when it comes to resting star players. The playoffs are the most important thing, so you want to guarantee (as much as you can) a fully healthy lineup for the significant games.
Whether this becomes a common idea for the Maple Leafs this season, as they grow closer to cementing a playoff position, we shall see. Definitely can be thought with Andersen and his health history in mind, but whether or not Tavares, Marner, or Matthews takes a breather for a game or two, we might have to wait until later.
For the full discussion with Elliotte Friedman that happened on Monday, click here.