Q/A with Eddie Olczyk: With short schedule, ‘It is such a crapshoot’; Pivotal season for Blackhawks

Eddie Olczyk needs to make up for lost time. So the NBC/Chicago Blackhawks analyst hardly is easing into the new season.

His schedule since last Saturday through Sunday:

Saturday: Los Angeles for Blackhawks-Kings; Sunday: Phoenix for Blackhawks-Coyotes; Tuesday: Chicago for St. Louis-Blackhawks; Wednesday: New York for Boston-Rangers; Thursday: Dallas for Chicago-Stars: Friday: East Lansing to Michigan State-Penn State (his son plays for Penn State); Saturday: Columbus for Chicago-Blue Jackets; Sunday: Chicago for Detroit-Blackhawks.

I get exhausted just typing that. But Olczyk doesn’t seem fazed.

“I just forge ahead,” he said.

Olczyk, one of the best analysts in any sport, knows being busy beats the alternative. With the NHL season finally kicking off Saturday, I asked Olczyk to assess the fallout and look ahead to the factors that will impact the short 48-game season. Also, as a bonus to the Chicago readers, Olczyk weighs in on what will be an important season for the Blackhawks.

How did you handle the time off?

For me, I lived through this before as a coach and a player. I understand the dynamics of what goes in it.

It was a chance to spend time with my family. I have two boys playing college hockey. I saw a lot of their games. I have a son whose team I help coach. I was at the rink five nights a week. So I was around hockey quite a bit.

Were you nervous the entire season would be wiped out?

I was always banking on the common sense part of it. On the inside, I was hoping we would play. But the longer you go, you wonder if common sense would kick in.  But it’s a business. There’s no guarantees. It happens with everything in life. Unfortunately for us, it happens far too often.

Was this all worth it? Will the sport be better off?

It’s too early to get your thumb print on it. Any time you lose games, it’s not a good thing. So many people were affected (on and off the ice).

Where does the league stand now compared to 2004-2005 when the entire season was lost?

Back then, they came back with a lot of gadgets. The shootout. People were really jazzed up about that. There were rules changes (for more offense). You had Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin coming on.

Now I think we’re relying more on the momentum that the sports captured over the last seven years. The playoffs were big last year. People were so happy all those outlets had all the games. We’re going to tell stories, tell people why the game is as great as it is. Not only in person but on television as well. The bottom line is, it’s entertainment. We have to entertain.

If you were coaching this year, how would you feel going into the season without any real training camp?

Certainly, there are going to be challenges. You had only five practices to implement your system.

It’s going to be a 48-game push. For coaches, time management is going to be the key. You’re going to go through tough stretches where you’re not playing well in a certain area. You may lose three in a row and your power play is 0 for 20. You want to practice, but you’re going to have give guys a day off. Maybe rest is the most important thing you can give them.

You’re going to have to watch a guy’s minutes. You’re going to be playing four games in six nights. For a lot of guys, it won’t be physically possible for them practice on that off day and have them ready to go.

What’s the impact of a reduced schedule?

With the short schedule, it is such a crapshoot. The only thing I know for sure, the first 14 games are going to be big. I don’t think you can make the playoffs in the first 14 games, but I think you can knock yourself out. Is that .500? Is that a game over?

Every night somebody is gaining on you. You have to be able to stay out of going 2-5 on a road trip. If you don’t win for two or three games, you’re going to drop off big time.

You can see how close the division races were in past years. You think about all games are within the conference this year. Everyone will need to brush up on the tie-breakers. With the short season, it’s going to be so close. The difference between home ice advantage and missing the playoffs…It’s going to be really, really crazy.

You work as a local TV analyst for the Blackhawks for Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in two straight years. How big of a season is it for the Hawks?

There’s no doubt that they’ve got to take that next step. Losing in the first round is just not good enough. I know the philosophy of (owner Rocky Wirtz and team president John McDonough). Regardless of changeover or anything else, their expectations are one thing: To win.

The Hawks need the goaltending to go to another level. They need to be able to win those defensive type of games, those tight-checking, neutral zone type of games. There are their special teams. And put that in the blender, and hope you get to the next step.

Can they do it without making any major changes?

That’s a good question. They get Hossa back, they get Daniel Carcillo back, and he’ll give them a physical presence they were lacking for most of the season (Note: Carcillo got injured in the opener Saturday and will miss some significant time.) They have some depth on the back end, which will help. How much time will their best defenseman play (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook)? And can they improve their power play?

Those things can be the difference, not only during the regular season, but in the playoffs.







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