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NHL's New Bye Week Schedule: To Rest or Not Rest? That is the Question

The National Hockey League included a mandatory bye week for every team this season, but is it beneficial to get an extra week of rest? We take an introspective look at team's performances after a week of rest.

This is a story about stats, with a dash of opinion sprinkled in.

It's an honest question that should seemingly have a singular answer: how do professional sports teams perform after a bye week?

This question has been unearthed thanks in large part to a new scheduling change by the National Hockey League this season. After years of complaints by players that the season is too long and arduous, the NHL gave every team a week off for the 2017 schedule.

If you didn't notice that your favorite hockey team had a bye week, don't worry, you're not alone. The NHL's new schedule has snuck up on everyone, including the players.

Ironically, it was the players who negotiated for the extra five days of rest in the new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL. The NHL  Players' Association negotiated the "five-day bye week," which takes place between January 1 and March 1.

As part of the agreement, there is no practice for five consecutive days, with the team only allowed to practice after 4:00 PM PST on the fifth day.

Despite the fact that the extra week of rest should be seen as a good thing, the new break has many coaches across the league fuming.

"I think it's 100 percent wrong for player safety," Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told the Buffalo News earlier in the season. "You've got so many games in such a short period of time and you're jamming in more. To me, the more days rest you can have by not playing back-to-backs and jamming it in, the healthier you have a chance to be." 

The NHL's "bye week" model follows the National Football League who first implemented a bye week during the regular season in 1990. Many believe that the extra week of rest in the NFL works in the favor of the team coming off a break, but statistics don't necessarily back that up.

In the NFL's bye week format, all 32 teams are given an extra week of rest during the course of the 17 week season. Proponents of the bye week believe that it gives players and coaches an extra week to prepare, scout, and game plan for their opponent coming off the break, not to mention, more time to heal from injuries.

However, in a five-year case study of how NFL teams performed after a bye week, ironically, the numbers suggest that the extra week of rest has little to no impact on the outcome of the game.  

Fantasy football players and sports book handicappers pay extra attention to teams on a bye week during the season, but according to Cheat Sheet War Room, the odds of a team winning a game after an extra week of rest are about the same as a coin flip. 

The study researched all NFL teams between the 2009 and 2014 seasons, with teams returning to the field after a bye week winning only 52.2 percent of the time, and losing 47.8 percent of the time.

While some teams like the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos were perfect over that span coming off a bye, other teams like the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings struggled to get wins.

The numbers are even worse in the NHL with the bye week format set to end in a couple weeks. NHL teams are a shocking 3-10-1 this season in their first game following the mandated five-day break. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Kings became the most recent victim of the "rusty from rest" outcome.

"We didn't look at it as coming off a break. We just looked at it as coming home and trying to get a win," said Kings' head coach Darryl Sutter after his team lost to the last-place Arizona Coyotes 5-3 at Staples Center on Thursday. "I've watched a lot of these games where guys are coming off the break and the goaltenders are not very sharp. Team's are 3-9 this season after a bye. We would have liked to make it 4-8, but we couldn't get it done."

Kings' goalie Peter Budaj was the net-minder for the game against the Coyotes and he definitely did not look like the player who leads the league in shutouts and is in the top 10 of nearly every goaltending statistical category this season.

Budaj allowed two goals within a 16-second span in the first period that all but sealed the two-time Stanley Cup Champions' fate as they chased the game the remainder of the way.

The Kings showed some fight in the third period and outshot the Coyotes two-to-one, 44-22, over the course of the game, but it was the rust shown by Budaj that made the difference. The Czechoslovakian goalie allowed two easily savable shots to get past him late in a close game.

"It was definitely a factor," Kings' forward Tanner Pearson said of the rust coming off the bye week. "Hopefully, we got it all out of our system. It's tough. We just have to be able to wrap our heads around it, and go out there and do our jobs."

Theoretically, the extra week of rest should be beneficial to an athlete's body and their overall performance. After all, any trainer will tell you that rest and recovery are two non-negotiable components when it comes to allowing your body to operate at peak performance.

"It's tough, you want to get right back in the thick of things, but teams that are hockey-ready, teams that are playing a ton of games when you're on vacation on the beach, it's tough," New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall told NJ.com after the Devils lost 4-1 following their bye week last Sunday. "Over the course of time, it helps out a lot, being able to rest and heal injuries, but certainly a first tough game back."

Time will tell if the NHL's new bye-week format is beneficial or detrimental to teams. Sports schedules are grueling on the body and mind, and a much-needed reprieve from the monotony of the day-to-day can ultimately behoove an athlete in the long run.

Clearly, it's difficult for teams to jump right back into the thick of things following a week in which absolutely zero hockey activity takes place, but in the long run, it could be the difference during the final stretch run of the season when rest and health can decide whether or not a team makes a deep Stanley Cup run or heads home early.

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