By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
Get your boarding passes ready. Fuel up your vehicles. Pack your bags and get ready for a journey.
Year after year we hear a steady stream of complaints about the NHL’s unbalanced schedule and the unfair amount of travel within certain divisions. Many have attempted to crack this particular conundrum. None have yet succeeded. Now it’s time I take a crack at it.
First, let’s review a couple of things. One, there are currently four eight-team divisions in the NHL. The Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions reside in the Eastern Conference while the Pacific and Central Divisions comprise the Western Conference.
Secondly, the current schedule matrix is designed as follows: you play five teams within your division four times per season (two home and two road). You play one team in your division three times (two road and one home). And you play one team in your division three times (two home and one road).
Next, the breakdown for the other division within your conference goes like this: you play four teams three times (two home and one road). And four teams three times (two road and one home).
Lastly, you play teams in the other conference twice (one home and one road).
That totals 41 home games and 41 road games for 82 total contests in the regular season. Seems simple, right?
Well…outside of the constant two games (one home, one road) against the teams in the other conference, the rest of your schedule changes year-to-year. So, what I’m about to propose will change that. In my schedule matrix everything will remain constant.
First we have to realign the divisions. Ugh, I know you’re tired of that happening every few years (or so it seems), but I promise this will be it. And since we know the NHL won’t be expanding any time soon, it’s safe to say we won’t have to worry about accommodating a 33rd or even 34th team.
Instead of four eight-team divisions, we’ll now have eight four-team divisions. (And just to make things interesting I brought back some of the old-school division names). These eight divisions will be split into two conferences (four in each).
PATRICK DIVISION: Devils, Flyers, Islanders, Rangers.
ADAMS DIVISION: Bruins, Canadiens, Sabres, Senators.
NORRIS DIVISION: Blue Jackets, Capitals, Maple Leafs, Penguins.
O’BRIEN DIVISION: Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers, Predators.
CLARENCE CAMPBELL CONFERENCE
GREGORY DIVISION: Blackhawks, Jets, Red Wings, Wild.
SMYTHE DIVISION: Canucks, Flames, Kraken, Oilers.
VEZINA DIVISION: Ducks, Golden Knights, Kings, Sharks.
ZIEGLER DIVISION: Avalanche, Blues, Coyotes, Stars.
As you can see, I’ve attempted to group each division in a way so as to minimize each team’s traveling. For example, there’s no reason why a team like the Lightning should be in the same division as a team like the Canadiens.
Now for the breakdown of games played.
If last season’s 56-game schedule taught us anything it’s this: fans love to see rivalries. To be honest, the players get “up for” rivalry games too. And last season, we saw teams play each other a whopping eight times, which gave way to plenty of animosity and intensity as the season wore on. So I’m going to keep that as part of my new schedule. Who says “no” to eight games a year between the Bruins and Canadiens? Or the Rangers and Islanders? Or the Blackhawks and Red Wings?
In my new schedule, each team will play the other three teams in its division eight times (four home, four road) per season; which is more than enough to establish those exciting rivalries we mentioned a moment ago.
Then, each team will play every non-divisional opponent twice per season (once at home and once on the road). If you think about it, you already only play teams from the opposite conference twice per year so you’re not missing anything there.
As for the teams in your conference but not in your division, you’ll go from playing them three times to two times, so not a huge difference. However, the key there is to eliminate the unbalanced and randomized aspect of playing some teams twice at home and once on the road or twice on the road and once at home.
This new schedule breakdown places a heavy emphasis on intra-divisional matchups, which should create more excitement all season long.
What this schedule also does is eliminate two games from the current 82 game season. Under my breakdown, every team will play 80 games (40 home and 40 road).
As for the playoffs, each division winner qualifies and then the four teams with the next highest points totals get in, regardless of division. Each division winner would be seeded one through four (in order of points). Seeds five through eight would then be the next four highest points totals in each conference. Of course, that also means a return to the 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, etc. format.
So, what do you think? Did I crack the case?