Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato is directly familiar with what lies ahead in the abbreviated 2012-13 season.
As a left winger with the Kings, Granato played through a 48-game schedule in the 1994-95 campaign which was also shortened due to a lockout. Granato, as well as executives Tom Fitzgerarld and Bill Guerin, are the only three members of the Penguins organization who were active as NHL players that season. All three have been consulted on what to expect this season as has former Penguins coach Eddie Johnston who ran the team's bench that campaign.
Yesterday, Granato spoke about the unique demands of a 48-game season.
What was different about that season compared to normal seasons?
"The mindset of not having an exhibition game to kind of ease your way into it is probably the biggest thing. But once you’re into it, it’s actually probably better. The athletes in today’s game, they’re already in game shape. Obviously the bumps and the bruises that come along with the game will be a little bit different. But as far as the conditioning part of it, these guys will be ready."
You only played 33 games that season. Was that due to compacted schedule?
"No. A broken foot. I stood in front of a slap shot and broke a foot. It was (Kings defenseman) Rob Blake. So it was one I won’t forget. I stood in front of one of his one-timers, I was about 10 feet from him in front of the net and he busted my foot."
As a player in the Western Conference, did the lack of non-conference games in the Eastern Conference present benefits?
"It probably made it easier, but being in the east is a lot more convenient travel-wise. It’s a lot easier to get good practice time. You spend a lot more time in your own bed in the east than the west."
During the 1994-95 season, expansion teams like the Sharks and Panthers qualified or nearly qualified for the posteason. Does a shorter season level the field for teams with lesser skill?
"There’s no doubt if you can gain momentum early, even if you’re an ordinary team, a team which probably doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, you’ve got a chance. Everybody has a chance this year. You get good goaltending, you get on a good streak early and you put together some wins, you can be a contender. I think everybody realizes the competition in our league, the difference between No. 1 and No. 16 and the difference between No. 16 and No. 30 is not a lot. When you shortened the season, you give that much better of a chance to the teams that probably are not as skilled or as good as the upper-echelon teams. It will be a battle. The last 10 days of the season, you’ll be saying there will be 25 or 27 teams that still have a chance to make the playoffs."
Do younger players have an advantage with a schedule like this?
"I would say yes. From the standpoint of younger legs and not as much wear and tear is probably a helpful thing. I think our team sits up well with the skill guys. I think it’s great for (Sidney Crosby), (Evgeni Malkin), (Kris) Letang and (Marc-Andre Fleury). All those guys, I think it’s going to be beneficial. I think the two goalie thing is big too. We have two goalies who can play and play as number ones. You’re going to need your second goalie to play anywhere between 15 and 22 games in a season like this."
How similar do you think the play this season will be to the 1994-95 season?
"I think it’s two different eras of hockey. But I also think if you look at the standpoint that referees haven’t had (much) training camp either. They don’t have an exhibition game to work through it. They’re going to call probably a lot more penalties early in the season. So from that standpoint, special teams are going to be tested early. There’s no adaption period where players can usually adapt to who referees are going to call it in exhibition (games). So when you get to the regular season, you have a feel for how they’re going to call it. And then, the back to back games early, without exhibition games, you’re going to need a deep roster. You’re going to probably need eight or nine (defensemen) and you’re going to need five lines-plus. You’re going to have depth at all positions."
Did players who played in Europe during the 1994-95 lockout have an advantage over players who didn't play going into that season?
"I would say yes. But today’s athlete, the workouts these guys had (in informal workouts during the lockout) at Southpointe, it didn’t matter if it was 10 or 12 of them, those were mid-season practices. We jumped into (official) practices two days ago and you would say it was mid-season. Their execution, their jump their energy was like a mid-season practice. Conditioning-wise, they’re there. The timing part of the game, the physical part of the game will probably be an adjustment but it won’t take them long."
(Photo: Ken Levine/Allsport/Getty Images)