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Why the NHL Schedule Needs Fixing

In sports like hockey, baseball and basketball it is important to make sure that the schedule is as balanced as possible. There are so many games that are spread out throughout the course of the season that it can be hard to keep it consistent. When they make the schedules, the league wants to keep fans interested all season, so they usually put some of the better matchups during the first half of the season. While this is great, it can sometimes hurt the second half.

With their 5-2 win in Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins will not meet again for the rest of the season.

 

That doesn’t seem right to me for some reason. Two of the top teams in the division are done playing before the All-Star break and won’t see each other for another three and a half months? Especially when the season gets down to the wire, these would be great matchups as they vie for positioning at the top of the Metropolitan.

The NHL is robbing hockey fans of a great matchup down the stretch to get us ready for the playoffs. Could you imagine a season where the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens don’t face each other for the last three months? While Bruins fans might not mind it given their recent troubles, the NHL loves this matchup.

In the NHL, the schedule isn’t as straight forward. Since there are eight teams in each division in the Eastern Conference, their schedule gets messed up and we’ll use the Rangers as a guideline. The Rangers will face the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes five times. That means they face the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets only four times for a total of 30 contests.

Meanwhile, teams in the Western Conference play within their division only 29 times. For a league that is trying to stress the importance of rivalries—especially with Wednesday night being “Rivalry Night”—they need a little more consistency.

Part of the problem is the amount of times teams play within the division. In baseball, one divisional team will face the other members of their division 19 times. Now that is obviously too many times for a hockey season given the number of teams in the division and how many teams are in the division, but is there a need to face the opposition so many times? One of the things that makes the NFL and MLB schedules good is the fact that they don’t regularly play the teams in the opposing conference/league. That leaves some mystery and generally results in some good matchups.

There are two easy solutions that come to mind. The first would be to reinstitute three divisions in each league (like the NBA) or add two more teams into the league. There have been rumors that the Canadian city of Quebec have been in talks to rebuild a stadium in an attempt to get another NHL team up there. Other than that, there could easily be another team in the Northwest US in a city like Seattle. That way each division can have eight teams and the schedule can be a little more balanced. Right now this schedule isn’t fair for everyone, because two teams will get an extra game against easy opponents. The Rangers and the Flyers get an extra game against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are one of the worst teams in the league this season.

One thing that makes this new schedule so tough is the reasoning behind it. The new schedule was constructed so that every team would play at least one game in every stadium in the league. This way you could have teams like Detroit, Winnipeg and Columbus who switched divisions still retain some of their old rivalries. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as sometimes rivalries can grow when there’s less games between the two. Look at baseball rivals New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. This is perhaps the best rivalry in all of sports, but it has lost a lot of its hatred over the past couple of years. Maybe if these teams faced each other less, the product would be better because even the regular season games would mean something.

The NHL schedule needs to be looked at again, or at the very least reworked. They just reworked the divisions two years ago so it is unlikely that there will be another change. In any case, whoever is working the schedule needs to do a better job of spacing out the games because one of the better matchups over the past couple of years will have to wait three and a half months before possibly continuing. It’s a shame that the league is going to miss out on a great matchup for the next three and a half months, but maybe this will start the discussion to change a silly schedule.

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