Sunday, October 24, 2010

A new approach to NHL scheduling


A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend in anticipation of the upcoming NHL season, discussing what we thought would be in store for the Habs, how the rest of the league matched up against our favourite team, and by how many points the Leafs would miss the playoffs.

Somewhere between agreeing that “Vertigo” has worn out its welcome as the Habs’ goal song and a healthy Cammalleri notching 40 and ending up with more points that the Leafs, we decided that we weren’t huge fans of the way that the NHL schedules their games. Too many back-to-back games, too many road trips, and too many games against teams that are too difficult to get excited about.  In short, the season just seems too… long.

Not that we’re  thick enough to think that a league whose total revenue is so gate-driven would ever lop ten games off their schedule—it simply wouldn’t happen—but  we wondered what could be done to help make the regular season feel more like the absolute BEST time to watch hockey: the playoffs.

Currently, each team play 3 road games and 3 home games against the other four teams in their division, for a total of 24 games. To round out their conference they play 2 road games and 2 home games vs. the remaining 10 teams, for another 40 games. Against the other conference they play 18 games; one game against 12 of the teams, and 2 games (one road, one home) vs. the remaining three teams.

Personally, I don’t think that there’s a big problem with how a team’s games are currently divided up; playing more of your games against conference, division, regional and traditional rivals helps to increase interest in what could otherwise be seen as just one more game of 82.

The big problem is the apparent haphazardness of how the schedule is laid out. The Habs’ 2010-2011 season has eleven 1-game road trips, 16 sets of games on back-to-back nights, and includes 62 travel days.

What I’d like to see would be to take the AHL model and expand on it in an effort to help bring some playoff intensity to the regular season. In other words, make it a series-based schedule. Here’s what I envision it potentially looking like for the Habs:

Home games: Red. Road games: Blue

What you’ll notice is that the breakdown of games between the other teams remains the same; six against your division, four against the rest of your conference, etc. The main difference is that the games are now broken up into series. Here’s how it would lay out:

  • Two 3-game series against division opponents (one home, one away)
  • Two 2-game series against the remaining teams in your conference (one home, one away)
  • Two games against three teams in the opposing conference: Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton (one home, one away)
  • One game against each of the 12 remaining teams in the other conference (6 home, 6 away)

With this system, the final 12 games of your season would be against your division; four 3-game series, two each home and away. Additionally, to cut down on the lopsidedness of the current schedule every series would be split between the first and second half of the schedule; ex.: The Habs would play the Leafs for a 3-game series in Toronto in the first half of the season, then follow it up with a 3-game series in Montreal in the second half of the season. Against the current Canadiens 2010-11 schedule, this new format would have a number of benefits: 

  • Fewer travel days (34 instead of 62). Not only would this be a big savings on transportation costs for the teams, but it would also allow for more off-days while on the road that could be used for rest and/or practice instead of catching flights.
  • Reduced the number of games on back-to-back nights
  • Greater flexibility in scheduling, considering the multi-use demands of NHL arenas
  • Increased health and wellness of players, especially in the latter stages of the regular season and into the playoffs

Two and three-game series increase “rivalry” games vs. non-traditional rivals. Some of the most intense regular-season games that I’ve seen involved consecutive games against the same teams, most notably against the Leafs in Montreal a few seasons ago. Imagine if we could ramp up that kind of excitement in a series against, say, Atlanta. Just like in the playoffs the second game in the series would automatically have more intrigue considering that the team that lost the first game would have the opportunity to make adjustments and try to take back the victory. 

And could you imagine a 3-game series against a traditional rival like, say, Boston or Toronto where the first game is a bloodbath? The intensity for the next two games would be off the charts.

I’m drooling just thinking about it.

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