You can read all over the Internet about speculation that the NHL still had hopes of a 60-game season had talks not broken off Thursday night to end the lockout. Gary Bettman said afterward that no less than a 48-game schedule -- the same that was played in 1994-95 -- would be considered to maintain "integrity" of the competition (like there's any integrity left here but I digress ... )
With games only canceled through Friday, it's likely the league will have to dump more off the schedule as soon as Monday (the Sabres have already had 27 canceled).
So we're close to a best-case scenario of a 48-game season. The Sabres have 46 scheduled from Jan. 1 on and it would be easy to throw two more dates in there.
With that in mind, and thinking optimistically about hockey at some point, I decided to look back to last season. You can't put every team at 48 games so I put the Sabres at 48 and it was an ugly time: The morning of Jan. 22 when they awoke on a five-game skid overall and having lost a franchise-record 12 straight on the road after a 4-2 loss in St. Louis.
The standings at that point are here. The Sabres were 19-24-5 and 14th in the Eastern Conference. But the incredible thing I found was this -- 15 of the 16 playoff teams from last season were already determined by that point.
The top eight in the East (NYR, BOS, FLA, PHI, OTT, PIT, NJ, WAS) all made the playoffs as did seven of the eight in the West (DET, VAN, SJ, STL, CHI, NAS, LA). Only Phoenix, which eventually caught Colorado, snuck in.
Most hockey observers say it's tough to come from out of the playoffs to sneak in after the new year and this certainly upholds that theory. Some people say it's even earlier, like the start of December.
One thing is for sure: In a short season, there's going to be no time for long slumps, no time for a late rush to the top eight -- which is something the Sabres have tried to pull off in four of the last five years and only succeeded in 2011.
If everything is pretty well decided by 48 games of an 82-game season, that means you better be in good shape by game 30 of a short schedule. Maybe sooner. If we get back to seeing hockey, it will make for a pretty unusual dynamic right from the start of the season.