Perhaps the most all-encompassing story in this NHL season so far has been the debate of the effectiveness of morning skates on game days, and the Los Angeles Kings are one of the teams who’ve decided to stick with the long-held tradition.
The science appears to indicate that extra sleep is more valuable for players before they’re set to play a game, and that the morning skate doesn’t provide much physical benefit for the players.
Those who swear by the routine seem to cite the mental effects as justifying its existence, as it is a way for players to clear their head before a big game.
What really opened people’s eyes was when the Columbus Blue Jackets eliminated gameday morning skates this season, and proceeded to win 16 straight games.
So much of sustaining a long winning streak is keeping the energy levels throughout the lineup high, and the proof appears to be in the pudding.
Sometimes all it takes is outside-the-box thinking to start a trend, and about a third of the teams in the league have now either made morning skates on game days optional or cancelled them all together.
Like other sacred traditions within sports, its origin stems from a time where contextual issues made it more of a necessity.
Players didn’t make as much money as they do now in past decades, and wouldn’t take as good of care of themselves. Strict regimentation was viewed as a way to keep players committed and in shape.
Some sources claim that Fred Shero implemented morning skates on game days with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 70s when he learned of their effectiveness with the Soviet Red Army team.
Others credit the practice in the NHL to Scotty Bowman around the same time. Bowman enacted them in order to make sure his players didn’t stay up too late partying the night before.
With better nutritional procedures in contemporary times, it doesn’t really seem like there’s much reason to still do them beyond the bonding or personal tranquility they could provide a team.
Franchises in other sports are learning about the benefits of extra sleep, and practice times have been slashed to impressive results. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Seattle Seahawks, and Chicago Cubs are a few squads who’ve successfully bought into the science.
Routine is important to maintain for players to be comfortable, but the real question is whether mental serenity outweighs the objective science illustrating that more sleep makes players more physically productive.
As with most issues, the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle. The best recourse is probably for teams to make it optional for players, and the ones who feel as though they benefit from it can still participate, while the ones who feel like it’s unnecessary at best or detrimental at worst don’t have to join in.
The data is beginning to show that the extra sleep is more beneficial. The Kings are holding onto a decades old tradition, but there are certainly multiple ways to win games during a grueling NHL season.
Different players respond differently to practice techniques and schedules, and it’s up to the coaching staff to maximize the roster they have.