Fixing the Schedule

So the NHL govenors met this week to discuss making changes to the NHL schedule but came up with no solution so for now we are stuck with what we have got. Some teams want more interconference play, some teams want none at all. My problem with the schedule is that the teams who are competing with each other to make the playoffs play significantly different schedules. The northeast division may have 5 of the top 8 teams in the eastern conference but because they play each other 8 times, it is unlikely that they will all make the playoffs while a lesser team from the Atlantic or Southeast divisions would make the playoffs. If you are a fan of having the best teams in the playoffs then this is not an ideal solution.

One method to fix this problem was to have 10 teams from each conference make the playoffs with a 3 game series of seed #7 vs #10 and #8 vs #9 with the winners making the round of 8 in each conference. I have mixed feelings on this because I think enough teams already make the playoffs but it does allow for teams punished by a tougher schedule to prove themselves in this short series.

Tom Benjamin has offered up some ideas himself but I’d like to take a different tact in fixing the schedule. Why do we need a 100% fixed, set in stone schedule? Why not allow teams to set a portion of their schedule themselves? Here is what I am proposing:

Each conference plays every other team in their conference 4 times. With 14 other teams in the conference this would equate to 56 conference games. Each team would then play every team in the other conference once per season. By playing every other team once per season and alternating home vs road games every other year, every team will play in every city in the other conference at least every other year. Not every year will Sidney Crosby visit Calgary but every year he will play Calgary and every other year he will play in Calgary. Adding the 15 interconferene games to the 56 conference games we now have a total of 71 games. Now to get the schedule up to 82 games like we currently have, the teams will be allowed to schedule the other 11 games however they see fit with the condition that no more than 2 games can be played against the same team (i.e. The Rangers won’t be able to play the Islanders all 11 games). So, for example, Toronto could play those 11 games using a 3 game road trip to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, 2 extra games againt Ottawa, Montreal and Buffalo and maybe a couple of original 6 games against Detroit and Chicago. I know as a Leaf fan I’d rather see a few more games against teams like Detroit than 8 games against Boston (5 in one month is rediculous). Los Angeles could play Anaheim and San Jose a couple of extra games or maybe start a cross country big city rivalry with the New York Rangers by playing an extra couple of games each season. The 4 teams in the southeast (Tampa, Florida, Atlanta and Carolina) could focus on playing each other and developing those rivalries further and could even bring Nashville into the mix. Teams could choose to have playoff re-matches whether they face a team they met in the playoffs the previous years playoffs to renew hostilities. With 11 free games teams would have a ton of options on how to develop rivalries and promote their team.

At the end of the season all teams will have played 82 games and the top 8 teams in each conference make the playoffs and the playoffs get played just as they do now.

What does everyone think?

This article has 14 Comments

  1. I doubt that it would be feasible. First off, scheduling 11 games * 30 teams, each with its own preferences, would be impossible. Toronto may want to play Pittsburgh twice more, but what if the Penguins don’t select Toronto for any of its 11 game choices?

    This becomes an even worse problem in that teams would never select their schedule to promote rivalries or encourage tough matchups. Each team would choose to play teams they think they can beat as many times as possible. Who in their right mind would choose to play Buffalo more often than necessary?

    Simply put, it would be impossible to create a schedule that caters to individual requests from 30 teams.

  2. I am not convinced it would be that impossible. What the NHL does is leave a few open weeks in the schedule within which teams will need to play the required games. Sure, every team will be asking to play the Blues, but St. Louis will get to choose who they want to play. If St. Louis is smart, they choose to play Phoenix, Columbus, Pittsburgh, etc. They aren’t going to choose to play the Sabres. So, worst case scenario is the bad teams get first dibs on who to play this the bad teams will play the bad teams, the middle of the road teams will play the middle of the road teams and the good teams will play the good teams. Sounds fair to me. If the NHL is trying to promote parity, which is is, this would help. Doesn’t sound like all that bad of a scenario.

    But if you think that Calgary or Ottawa will not choose Toronto because Toronto is the best team in the NHL (theoretically speaking) I think you are wrong. I think Ottawa will choose to play Toronto because when Toronto comes to town they charge a 30% ticket premium. Same for pretty much any other Canadian team.

    I guess the main point I am trying to get at is, why do we need everything to be fixed in terms of which conferences/divisions play which other conferences/divisions a set number of times. Is it such a horrible idea that Toronto plays extra games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver and Boston doesn’t? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Boston to play more games against the Rangers and Flyers? Why can’t we have some sort of flexibility?

  3. Feasible yes, but this opens a different can of worms.. Every team will want to schedule those games against “big money” teams that people come out to see.. Not agains “weak” teams in hopes of artificially inflating their point totals (besides who really KNOWS for sure what teams will be good and bad before the season actually starts??). Teams will then complain that they didn’t get those extra games where the Wings/Rangers/Leafs came in town that bring in a SURE FIRE sell out…

  4. Seems to me the biggest issue is travel expenses. The western teams still get screwed, they should get compensation from the league.

  5. Whatever it is that teams will base their decisions on, the fact remains that this would require juggling the demands of 30 different teams. Because maintaining equal number of games played, if not equitable schedules, there’s a certain lack of flexibility that’s to be expected.

    The reason that teams “need” to play a set number of games between opponents in certain divisions or conferences is that competition for playoff spots is between teams in their respective divisions and not just the conferences. As long as the top three seeds in the playoffs go to division leaders, there aught to be as much equality between the schedules of teams within each division, if not the conference or league.

    I do support each team playing every other team at least once every year. I think however there are less extreme and simpler measures that could be taken. The 8 inter-division games could be trimmed to 6. Inter division or conference games could be switched to an odd number of games, with the extra home games switching every year. And so on.

    Personally, all I’d really like to see is the games get spread out a bit more over the course of the season. Home and home series are interesting, but do we need to see 5 or 6 games in under 6 weeks? I think that spreading out the games a bit would help more and would be much simpler to implement than what you suggested.

  6. i dont think it will work at all. some good reasons have been brought up against your idea. first off, teams will want to play against teams like philly, the rangers, the leafs, the habs, etc as these are surefire sellouts. second. who in their right mind would want to play anaheim san jose and buffalo. i know u make the scedule early, but u have an idea of which teams will be strong. second. out of those 11 games, which 11 games do u select? i mean u can cater to all 30 teams. they will all have different selections. so u will have to pick 15 teams. thats unfair. 15 teams get screwed. then if u dont and u pick 5 or 6 of the 11 games, then its still a disaster cuz how do u work out road games and so on?

    the way the schedule is made, travel is a priority. u have a road trip against teams that ARENT far from eachother. u have your western coast swing, calgary, edmonton, vancouver, your pacific swing, san jose, anaheim, LA, pheonix and so on. the schedule is made to make travel cheaper and easier on the players. well as cheap and easy as possible. cost is the #1 priority. if a team wins a selection and chooses to play pittsburg, chicago, LA, florida, and nashville, how do u work that out into a road trip? u will be flying across the states 4 times over.

    schedules arent made to appeal to fans. the NHL is trying to cut costs, it will be unfair. the leafs playing boston 5 times in a month is unfair. but so it vancouver travelling hours for a divisional game while the atlantic division doesnt have more than a 2 or 3 hour drive between cities.

  7. i wonder how noticable the new schedule would be if it was simply put together in a more thoughtful way. i don’t think anyone can deny that toronto playing ottawa or boston a half-dozen times in a month isn’t fun for anyone, and is counter-productive especially when inter-divisional games are supposed to be the ones we all get up for. i don’t understand why it’s difficult to spread those out, or why all the owners in one room can’t say “there are a lot of problems, but let’s start with this: no one wants to see the fifth of five games against the same team.”

    other than that, everyone wants to see crosby and ovechkin, and it just won’t happen.

  8. The western teams do NOT deserve compensation for a fact that is a mere result of their location. They paid to enter the league knowing full well that they would have to pay more in travel expenses. If they didn’t want to pay the travel expenses they never should have entered the league.

    If you choose to live in the suburbs to have a nicer backyard, you make the trade off of having to commute to work and pay more in gas. Nobody OWES you anything because of a decision YOU make. If you don’t like the commute you get a job closer to home, or you live closer to where you work, but you don’t get money from the government just because you think other people should pay for your decision.

    If you seriously think people get “screwed” purely by having to cover their own costs, then I suppose you’re in favour of paying to be sure every team in the southern US has a good enough AC system to make sure it’s ice stays cold, that’s your responsibility right? Or perhaps we could invite teams from Europe to play in the NHL without having to pay the air fare to cross the Atlantic. I mean why should they have to pay for it, that’s the NHL’S JOB!?

  9. The silly thing about fixating on Crosby and Ovechkin is, it just implies the NHL is doing a crap job of marketing it’s young stars on other clubs. Milan Michalek, and Steve Bernier in San Jose, Getzlaf, Perry, and Kunitz in Anaheim, Horton in Florida, Svatos in Colorado, Pruchca in NY, Weber and Hamhuis in Nashville… there are Young Stars all over the NHL but half the fans have no idea who they are or where they play… because all we ever hear about are Ovechkin and Crosby (add Malkin to that short list these days). Perhaps if the NHL managed it’s OTHER talent in a better way, like the NBA does with it’s many “stars”, it wouldn’t have this problem. Every team in the NHL has at least 1 star player. Most have more than 1. Sid Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are not the entire face of the NHL. It’s sad that GMs have to behave like they are.

  10. Steve,

    The difference is that while those players are all excellent, Crosby and Ovechkin are HOF talents without a doubt. In the NBA, LeBron James is hyped far more than any other player for the same reason.

    I do think the NHL does a poor job of marketing its younger stars, but Gretzky sold the game to the South – you can see why they’re trying a similar strategy with Crosby and Ovechkin. American fans weren’t clamoring for Dale Hawerchuk – even though he was just a step below Gretzky.

  11. Steve,

    I think you’re drawing a pretty direct line between what I said and that suburban analogy. (And I don’t know where your anaology of people in the south getting free AC came from. I think you might be grasping to articulate.)

    The name of the game these days is parity: they want every team’s market to be competitive because they know in the long run this will increase the overall success of the league. They’ve adjusted the schedule to decrease team expenses as one of many contingencies designed to prevent what happened before the lockout: successful teams in what could be considered hockey markets going bankrupt, teams like Ottawa and Pittsburg. They may say things like how the new schedule is to increase rivalries, etc, but it’s purely a cost saving move in the face of a decade of poor marketing and escalating player costs.

    Except for some teams the move doesn’t actually save any cost. For Ottawa to play Toronto involved renting a bus. For Vancouver to play Calgary involves getting plane tickets for the entire team and staff. That’s an additional cost of tens of thousands of dollars. I admit that to hear Dave Nonis complain about the schedule when the Canucks sell out GM Place every night regardless can be a bit annoying, but the man’s got a point. The cost saving move doesn’t save costs equally, and I think they should be compensated for that from league revenues.

    As for “if they didn’t like it they shouldn’t join the league,” well how were they going to know what the league was going to be like in 2006 when they joined? You can’t solve all these problems by simply saying “it can’t be that bad or you wouldn’t be here,” that’s too simplistic.

  12. Ok in response to the travel costs not relating to the northern teams paying for southern teams Air Conditioning costs… I think the comparison is entirely valid. Teams in southern climates KNEW when they entered the league that they would have to pay the costs of cooling a hockey rink, just like west coast teams knew when they entered the league that the majority of NHL franchises are in the Eastern Time Zone. The fact is they KNEW they’d have to pay MORE travel costs… just like the southern teams have to pay MORE air conditioning costs. The point is entirely applicable. To deny that it is, is frankly a tad absurd.

  13. OFF-TOPIC:
    The Vancouver Canucks due to injury problems are apparently over the 44 million dollar cap. What happens? Are there penalties when a team goes over the cap? Does the NHL force that team to not get to dress a full roster, or force them to send a higher salary player down and go through waivers so that that team is not over the cap. Basically I am asking if when a team suffers numerous injuries does the CBA/NHL have rules in place which cator to that unfortunate team and allow them immunity from the cap while their players are on IR.

    If you would like me to post the Canucks cap situation with all their injured players/call-ups/regulars that total over 44 million, just ask.

  14. I believe they can go over the cap to replace injured players but as soon as the injured players return, they have to get back under the cap.

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