By: Andy Palm, Columnist
The term “load management” has become somewhat of a hot topic in the past couple of weeks in regards to the NBA. Many star players now have scheduled games where they will not play, in an effort to conserve health and energy for the postseason. Forward Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers has become the face of this movement, after he took the Toronto Raptors to the finals last year. During the regular season, Leonard missed 22 games for rest.
It’s hard to argue that it isn’t helpful for the players. Less wear and tear in somewhat meaningless games so that they are healthy and energized for the games that really matter. This is something that I believe could benefit a lot of players in the NHL.
Hockey, more than any other sport, has a lot of older players. Older players tend to take shorter shifts, but the game takes a toll nonetheless. Another big effect on players is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When teams go deep into the playoffs, it cuts their offseason time significantly. Last year with the Washington Capitals, and the year before with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was clear that fatigue was playing a role in the team’s performance. Last year, the Capitals played a close first-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes that ultimately ended in a double-overtime loss.
Multiple Capitals players talked about how they felt their championship run two seasons ago played a part in their sluggish performance in last year’s playoffs. The biggest argument against load management is the actual entertainment aspect. Not only do fans pay to see top talent when they attend a game, but some fans also pay to only see specific players.
Also for nationally televised games, it can be bad for ratings if the best players are taking rest days. However, if winning championships is the ultimate measuring stick for the success of a season, and is also how a player’s career is reflected upon; missing a few regular season games isn’t of the utmost importance.
Another reason load management could be beneficial to all players is the possibility of extending careers. If older players are only playing around 60 games a year, not only will they be able to play longer shifts come playoff time, we could see a lot more players who play into their early 40s.
If these players don’t want to take full games off during the season, which is admirable and understandable; they could also simply limit their shifts every game. It really comes down to limiting time on the ice, so that players are not exhausted. The idea is that this time eventually adds up, and players feel better at the end of the season. We see this a lot with older players in the league, but it doesn’t have to just be them.
If every player had designated games where their time on ice would be limited, it would be a much more entertainment friendly idea. It’s still load management, but players aren’t taking whole games off and are still able to contribute on a nightly basis.
The NBA may have started a brand new era in professional sports. Conserving their best players for the biggest moments. Will the NHL follow in their footsteps?