blank'/> THE PUCK REPORT: Fixing the NHL Regular Season Schedule

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fixing the NHL Regular Season Schedule

Charged each year with setting a regular season schedule of 1230 games in 184 days, the NHL's July offering typically sends teams on excruciating road trips, squeezes back-to-back games with travel into 24 hour periods, and prevents clubs from visiting every rink. The following six tips offer a fan-friendly upgrade to this flawed scheme.

Fewer Games Each Season
Though owners and players would likely prefer to skate through the motions for 82 games so as to not surrender a dime, the majority of fans would happily settle for something less than the watered-down six month marathon of multiple meaningless matches.

Carving out 10-20 games from the regular season would allow for more time between games, yielding better-rested combatants and lessening the likelihood of injury, while heightening the importance of each match as point collecting opportunities become more precious. Less is more.

More Rest Between Games
To ensure players are performing at or near 100% every night, no team should play twice in 24 hours. Watching the home team twice in two nights is boring and forcing a team to travel between such tightly spaced affairs is unnecessarily onerous. Rested participants precipitate more competitive and exciting games. Spread it out.

No Hockey In June
The regular season should begin in October and end in March so the Stanley Cup may be awarded come May. To skate beyond Victoria Day, let alone Memorial Day, is uninspiring and untimely. Let's give June back to baseball. The boys of summer NHLers are not.

Every Team, Every Rink, Every Year
Though an improvement upon the post-lockout 8, the current division-heavy 6/4/1 (+3) division/intra-conference/inter-conference structure still fails fans. The fact that this redundancy keeps every team from every rink is an outrage.

A revised 5/3/2 division/intra-conference/inter-conference setup ensures an outright winner for division and intra-conference season series, puts each team in every rink, and eliminates the nonsensical three game wildcard offering. Moreover, the 5/3/2 balances the regular season at an even 80 games, shaving six periods off the existing 82. Fewer games and each team in every rink? Yes please.

More Home-And-Home Games
The best way to instill a rivalry is to match the same two teams twice in three nights. Every fan should endure this intense imposition upon their faithful with division and intra-conference foes pairing in such proximity at least once a year.

Further, at the end of each home-and-home regular season series all players should lineup and shake hands. The combination of competition and class needn't be the province of the postseason alone.

Rematch Stanley Cup Finalists To Start Season
Finally, the regular season should open on a Thursday with a single game featuring the Stanley Cup champions hosting their Cup Final partner. The prize would be paraded, banners raised, and rivalries renewed as the bridge spanning summer connects the seasons.

Two nights later every team in the league would faceoff as the pair polishes off the back-end of their home-and-home series. An opening night spotlight on the Stanley Cup would set the season ablaze.

Six small steps for scheduling. One giant leap for fankind. Lock it up.