Canucks and NHL face a gloriously chaotic half-season of extra pressure

Photo from Flickr/Sébastien Launay

Hockey Night in Canada announcer Bob Cole has never worked a game so dull or so meaningless that his natural excitability couldn't spruce it up a notch or two or twelve. But in a 2011 playoff series between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens he bumped into the opposite problem: An overload of events so exciting and so dramatic that all he could muster was "Everything is happening!"

It's an infamous call among hockey fans — often cited and hashtagged on twitter during extremely busy days on the NHL newswire — and it will be put to the test over the coming days and weeks of a shortened season and compressed NHL schedule. 

The lockout officially ends Saturday morning, training camps open Sunday, and the season starts in exactly one week. Trades and free agent signings could begin as early as 5:01AM PST, Saturday — roughly one minute after the Players Association completes ratification of the new CBA. General Managers will then have six full days to fill rosters and complete every move they've had on hold or in a landing pattern or scribbled on a napkin somewhere since September 14th. 

Thanks to the availability of compliance buyouts (starting this summer) some of those GM's will suddenly have options they didn't anticipate, or even consider, so the intensity should be significant.

It all points to a chaotic week ahead. 

Nine days from now the Canucks will have completed an abbreviated training camp, played their first game against the Anaheim Ducks, broken in new players like Jason Garrison, and likely moved their franchise goaltender, Roberto Luongo.

Which will take them all the way into game two, day two. 

The spectre of trades, trickle of free agent signings, and the atmosphere of training camp isn't likely to dry up anytime soon after the season begins either. Coaches and GM's will be fiddling and tweaking all the way up until the trade deadline, which is rumoured to be in the first few days of April. Ten weeks after puck drop. 

In short, everything will be happening, and happening quickly. But of course none of those are the truly terrifying numbers, the ones that are going to keep coaches and GM's up more nights than not between now and the end of April: wins, points, and the playoff race. 

In an 82-game season the point cutoff for making the playoffs usually falls anywhere between the low and mid 90's. That means teams usually have to collect around 58% of the points available to them — through a combination of both wins and overtime or shootout losses. 

In a 48-game season then that same clip puts the point cutoff at around 55, and means teams will have to win about 27 games outright, just to be even in the race. More realistically, given the existence of the loser-point and the three-point game, teams will have to be pulling points out of about 35 of their games. 

But even that won't guarantee anything — that will only put teams in the mix for the 8th and final seed. To be in control of their own destiny teams will need to be getting points in about 40 of their games.

That leaves just 8 games. 8 games were a team can deploy the Cliche Armada: "we're finding our legs, getting our feel for the puck, we're working on our game and we know we're close."

Fans and the media are all going to hear the phrase "margin for error" a lot these next few months. 

Lose 10 games and you're fighting for your life. Lose 15 and you're praying for a miracle.

Crazy, yes, but it should certainly make all of those early-season 3, 5 and 7 game losing streaks a bit more dramatic and compelling. Especially for Stanley Cup contending teams like the Vancouver Canucks, who play in a market where back-to-back losses under normal circumstances elicit calls for personnel changes.

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