After fighting through a series of last-minute decisions (the Dallas Stars vs. the Dallas Cowboys? Wrigley or U.S. Cellular?), the NHL finally released its 2008-09 schedule on Thursday, officially starting the countdown to Opening Night on Oct. 4.
For the record, that's 79 days until four teams -- the Rangers, Senators, Lightning and Penguins -- hook up overseas, and 84 days until the North American slate gets underway with four games on Oct. 9.
The newly redesigned matrix features a diminished emphasis on divisional play (six games, down from eight) and at least one game against every team from the other conference. It also features a home-and-home series for each of the six Canadian teams, a welcome occurrence that's been absent since the lockout.
The regular season ends on April 12, a week later than the 2007-08 season wrapped up. Ostensibly, the extra week affords a little more breathing room during the campaign to lessen the strain of the increased travel necessitated by the inter-conference play. But there may be another reason as well: the Stanley Cup Final is now likely to coincide with the NBA Finals, a more palatable option for the NHL's TV partners who prefer that to going up against two semi-final series of the hoops circuit.
But before we get to that point, there are more than 1,200 games to be played. Although it won't be for lack of trying, we can't watch 'em all. So here's a look at some of the dates we've circled on our calendar after giving the schedule the once-over:
Last season's opening series between the Ducks and Kings in London wasn't as jolly good as the league had hoped, but forcing hockey on the English was a classic square peg/round hole situation. The Swedes and Czechs should be much more welcoming hosts, even if
That same night, the Rangers host the Dallas Stars. You don't suppose