Saturday, July 23, 2005

No More Hockey Day in Canada?

The NHL announced their revised schedule guidelines for the upcoming season. The new, NFL-style, "unbalanced" schedule places a bigger emphasis on divisional and conference play. The basic guidelines break down as follows:

  • Each club will play 8 games against each of their divisional rivals.
  • Each club will play 4 games against each of the non-divisional teams in the same conference.
  • Each club will play 1 home game against each of the teams in a designated division outside their conference.
  • Each club will play 1 road game against each of the teams in a different, designated division outside their conference.

What this means for Canucks fans is that, during the regular season:

  • Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Minnesota will play at GM Place four times
  • Original Six favorite, Detroit, and heated rival, St. Louis, will play at GM Place twice
  • other Canadian teams - Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa - will play at GM Place only once every three years
  • similarly, Boston, New York Rangers, Crosby, Lemieux and the Penguins, Heatley and the Thrashers will play at GM Place only once every three years

To me, the biggest change is only being to watch the Leafs, Habs and the Senators once every three years. Does this mean that CBC will no longer have their "Hockey Day In Canada" specials in February, when all six Canadian teams are playing against each other? (A great Canadian tradition, BTW.) Did the NHL not pay attention to the success of the outdoor heritage game between Montreal and Edmonton last year? How will the league promote Crosby to the Western Conference when each city will only see him once every three years?

The NHL has spinned this change as a means to "strengthen rivalries" and "maintain the integrity of the conference-based playoff format". They also argue that the new schedule "allows for continued exposure of teams and star players from the other conference". My question is how it does these.

  • Under the old format, divisional rivals already played each other six times a year. Does adding two more games really strengthen the rivalry that much more? What about the traditional rivalries? The Canadian rivalries? The Original Six rivalries? Red Wings vs. the Leafs, Blackhawks vs. the Rangers... the league's largest cities will visit the other only once every three years?
  • I agree that in a conference-based playoff format, the league would want to maintain the integrity of the regular season. However, under the old format, teams already played 64 of their 82 games within the conference - that's 78% of their games within the conference. The new schedule states that 72 of teams' 82 games (or 87%) will be within the conference.
  • The old format ensured that teams visit teams outside their conference at least once every other year. How is reducing the number of times that teams from the other conference play inter-conference games "allowing for continued exposure" of these teams and star players? By making sure that Crosby and Lemieux and Heatley and Kovalchuck and Thornton and Theodore only play in the West once every three years? By making sure Naslund and Sakic and Iginla only play in the East once every three years? By making sure I can watch Marion Gaborik and Manny Fernandez one more time each year in lieu of watching Saku Koivu, Eddie Belfour and Jaromir Jagr?

Smooth move, NHL. Build the game by limiting exposure. But I suppose the way that the league has "grown the game" in the last 10 years, this is simply par for their course.

posted by J.J. Guerrero, 11:44 PM


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