The NHL board of governors meeting is later this week and it’s anticipated that changing the league’s schedule will be high on the agenda.
Currently, NHL teams play each team in their own division eight times (for a total of 32 games); against the other 10 teams in their own conference four times each (40 games); at home against one division in the other conference and away at a different division in the other conference (10 games). That means, of course, teams don’t play the other five clubs in the other conference at all.
When Toronto played the Coyotes on Saturday night, it was the Maple Leafs’ first trip to Phoenix since 2003. That’s ridiculous in an 82-game regular season that lasts six months. At the bare minimum, every NHL team should have a home-and-home with every other team. And while the new format that is expected to be proposed doesn’t accomplish that, it is a step in the right direction.
The new format that’s up for discussion appears to be: Six games against divisional rivals (24 games); four games against the other 10 teams in the same conference (40 games); one game against each team in the other conference (15 games); and three wild-card games against teams in the other conference.
Again, that’s a start, but not the solution.
• Six games against divisional rivals (24 games);
• Two games against other teams in the same conference (20 games); and,
• Two games against each team in the other conference (30 games).
You may notice that’s only a total of 74 games. That’s plenty. Let’s shorten the season a bit so that the playoffs end in May, not June.
If there’s a flaw in my proposal, it’s that clubs would play teams outside their division (but in the same conference) as often as they’d play teams in the other conference – a home-and-home with each of them. But the six games against divisional rivals should give proper weighting to conference play; teams would play a total of 44 games against their own conference compared to 30 against the other conference.
Six games against divisional teams are enough to stoke any rivalry, and the fact is, there are many rivalries that have been hurt by the lack of inter-conference play.
The Leafs hardly ever see old Norris Division rivals such as Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis; any Original Six fires have been doused due to fewer games between the Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens and Leafs against the Wings or Hawks; and, a team like Nashville, in the West, hardly ever plays geographic Sun Belt rivals such as Atlanta, Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Bottom line is, if I’m an NHL fan in the West and I don’t get to see Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk or Daniel Alfredsson at least once a season… well, that would be very, very disappointing.
Same goes for fans in the East who don’t get to see Roberto Luongo or Henrik Zetterberg or Chris Pronger or Rick Nash or...well, you get the idea.