Resting Players for the Playoffs if You’ve Already Clinched? Why Not?

By Brian Kinkade

Apr 7, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) is congratulated by right wing Patrick Kane (88) and defenseman Duncan Keith (2) after scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators during the third period at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Predators 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, April 7th 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks became the first team in the NHL to clinch a post-season birth in 2013.  Not only do the Hawks have the mighty luxury of a guranteed spot in the Western Conference Playoffs, but they also have a large stockpile of points, that currently has them 5 points in front of their closest competition, the Anaheim Ducks, who have also played two more games than the Blackhawks.  As long as the Blackhawks keep a decent pace for the little remainder of the season, they are all but assured the top seed in the Western Conference(although we learned last year, that playoff seeding actually means very little in the grand scheme of things).  With that luxurious cushion of comfort, and the fact that the Hawks are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, why risk injuring star players?

I understand wanting to keep your players in game shape, and getting on a roll right as the playoffs start, and those are both great reasons for keeping the pedal to the metal from here on out, but there is definitely some risk involved with that.  It can’t be like baseball, where you can have your entire bench fill in for everyday players more easily, to give them days off for rest.  In the NHL the roster limits leaves teams with less wiggle room to where you can only give player or two a night off at a time.  This rarely happens in the NHL, but now wouldn’t be a bad time to try it out, if you’re Blackhawks head coach, Joel Quenneville.

With the maximum roster for an NHL team set at 23 players, 18 of those players are will be playing as either forwards or defenseman(skaters) to fill up the roster.  One would be the starting goaltender, and another would be the backup goaltender, and that puts us at 20 players, leaving 3 players to be left out as healthy scratches that do not play in the game.  For the Blackhawks, those 3 players tend to usually be a cycle between Daniel Carcillo, Brandon Bolig, and Jamal Mayers for forwards.  All 3 of these forwards have found decent playing time this season due to injuries to other players.  For defenseman, there is usually a rotation between Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank for the role of 6th defenseman and healthy scratch.

It would be wise to play these players regularly for the remainder of the season, for the sole purpose of giving everyday players a mini-breather before the playoffs start.  Wouldn’t it be great to give players who have small lingering injuries a little more time to heal, and a little less time to risk turning that injury into something worse?  Wouldn’t it be great to give players like Duncan Keith, Patrick Kaneand Jonathan Toews who are arguably over-used, but most definitely heavily leaned on by coach Q, a quality breath of fresh air before they are needed more than ever?  This could ALL happen without sacrificing chemistry, familiarity, and momentum as long as only one ore two of these players are given a night off at a time.  This idea makes even more sense now, with the condensed shortened season coming to a close.  Even if the Hawks drop a spot in the Western Conference standings, we all learned last year with the Los Angeles Kings, just how little playoff seeding actually means.

The reward of trying this rest rotation idea is far greater than the risk.

What do you think?