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Lockout-shortened NHL season could have consequences

Patrick Sharp celebrates after scoring Hawks third goal during their game against St. Louis Blues United Center Chicago Thursday March

Patrick Sharp celebrates after scoring the Hawks third goal during their game against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday, March 29, 2012. The Hawks would go on to win 4-3. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 10, 2013 6:15PM



The last time the NHL had an abbreviated season, Patrick Sharp was 13.

‘‘I remember the [1994-95] season pretty well,’’ Sharp said Tuesday after a workout with a dozen Blackhawks teammates at Johnny’s IceHouse on the West Side. ‘‘Once you get into the swing of things, it’s business as usual. It’s getting into the swing of things that’s going to be the tough part.”

Ain’t that the truth. While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association chief Don Fehr hammer out details of the agreement that’s expected to end the third NHL lockout in the last 19 years, Sharp and the dozen teammates remained in the twilight zone — still technically locked out but determined to prepare for the 48- or 50-game regular season.

They were on their own; the Hawks’ Jamal Mayers conducted the 80-minute ‘‘practice.” Players still can’t have any contact with club personnel.

‘‘We’ve seen some familiar faces around the rink,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk to them or what the rules are. I guess we’ll find out as we go along.’’

The sooner, the better. Because no matter when the deal is finalized, time will be running short as soon as the entire team hits the ice. After months of sitting and waiting, every aspect of the NHL season will come at a rapid pace now. This season is about adapting more than preparing. Are Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks ready for this?

‘‘I don’t really know what to expect,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘It’s going to be tough if there are no preseason games. It’s going to be whoever can adjust the quickest and get off to a great start.’’

Hockey seasons in general are prone to volatility, especially in the playoffs. This abbreviated one is sure to be no different.

‘‘It’s definitely a spring,’’ Hawks forward Daniel Carcillo said. ‘‘There’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period for being off so long. But after that, it’s definitely going to be intense hockey. Every game means so much. You lose a couple of games in a row, and you’re in trouble.’’

Maybe. Or maybe not, if the previous lockout-shortened season is any indication. In 1994-95, the New Jersey Devils were winless in their first four games and started 3-5-2 in the 48-game season. They tied for ninth overall with 52 points, then won the Stanley Cup. The Quebec Nordiques, who didn’t even make the playoffs the previous season, won 12 of their first 13 games and finished second in the NHL with 65 points. They lost in the first round of the playoffs.

If the NBA’s 66-game season in 2011-12 is an indication, conditioning and avoiding injuries will be another challenge for NHL coaches this season. Even if the pace of the season is close to a normal one, the effect of jumping right in with no preseason increases the risk.

‘‘I haven’t seen the schedule, so I don’t know how compressed it’s going to be,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘But injuries are always something you want to stay on top of.’’

Then there is the lockout’s impact on the season to consider. It’s too early to assess the damage. Will the fans come back? Will the players be ready? Will there be any lingering resentment over Bettman’s iron-fisted manner?

Those are questions Sharp never pondered when he was 13 years old.

‘‘All these questions are kind of premature,” he said. “We’re still currently locked out. We’re trying to make the best of our situation and getting ready to come back.’’



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