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Red Wings welcome long break in the schedule

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
“Everybody who has been around for a little bit knows you have to do something over the break, and not just sit around,” Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said.

Detroit — If you’re a Detroit hockey fan, and still enjoy watching the Red Wings, prepare for withdrawl symptoms.

For nine days there won’t be any Red Wings hockey, as Detroit doesn’t play again until Feb. 1 against Toronto.

The Wings are among 21 teams whose five-day “bye week" is on the back end of the All-Star Game — Jan. 27-31 — making for a nine-day hiatus (teams are allowed one practice, Jan. 31).

The remaining 10 teams had their “bye” this week — Jan. 20-24 — leading into the All-Star weekend, and will resume games Monday.

Players are free to skate on their own during the “bye week,” if they choose, but no formal workouts are allowed.

Although the pull of enjoying the sun somewhere warm is strong, players know it’s important to continue working out.

“Everybody who has been around for a little bit knows you have to do something over the break, and not just sit around,” defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “It’ll be important to make sure that when you come back, you’re not pulling a groin or hip flexor.”

Goaltender Jimmy Howard isn’t going to get all nine days off. Howard will be headed Thursday for the All-Star weekend in San Jose as the Wings’ lone representative.

But Howard sees the time off as beneficial for the Wings, who have played 51 games, more than any team in the Eastern Conference. Five teams in the West have played at least 51 games.

“It’ll be good (for everyone) because it’s been a grind, it seems like we’ve been playing every other day, or at least it feels that way it feels,” Howard said. “A lot of guys will be just enjoying the relaxation and it’s a great chance to get recharged.

“It’ll be good mentally, to just get away and not be thinking about hockey. Obviously it’s our profession, that’s what we do, but at the same time, it’ll be nice to hit the reset button.”

The Players Association negotiated the bye week in exchange for agreeing to the present 3-on-3 All-Star Game format, which began in 2016.

In the first year, teams had their time off spread out from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28, 2017. But the format was panned, because teams coming out of the rest were losing badly to teams who had been playing.

Last year, the NHL switched to a bye-week period (Jan. 7-15) compressed for everyone into a two-week window in January.

The competitiveness was evened out, but having two distinct chunks of time off played havoc.

Coach Jeff Blashill likes the idea of the bye weeks being attached to the All-Star break.

“I prefer this than to have a break a week ago for five days, then come back and go on an All-Star break,” Blashill said. “So, I like the fact that it’s tied to the All-Star break. It’s better that way for certain.”

Still, with so many days off, and players not in a competitive, active environment, it’ll be interesting to see if some players or teams lose their mental edge for a period of time.

And, there’s always always a concern over injuries. .

“From a physical standpoint I worry about hips, groins, hamstrings, things like that,” Blashill said. “Because you’re going from zero to 100 (mph). It’ll be interesting from a (mental) mindset. (But) everyone is in the same boat, so from a fairness standpoint, it’s 100 percent fair.

“There’s just certain unique challenges.”

When the Wings face Toronto Feb. 1, the Maple Leafs will also be coming off their bye week. But the Wings then travel to Ottawa for a game the next night, and though Ottawa, too, will be playing its second game in two nights coming off a break. The Wings then find themselves off again for four days — odd scheduling, to be sure.

The Wings play every other night for, essentially the remainder of February, before tackling a onerous March schedule — 15 games in 31 days, with 10 of those 15 games away from Little Caesars Arena.

“Scheduling is one of the most difficult things that people, the league, has to do,” Blashill said. “But the fact you come back and play back-to-back is a really hard thing on the athlete. That’s something that we’ll have to keep looking at.”

Twitter: @tkulfan