Friday, December 22, 2006

Changes in the NHL

The National Hockey League has finally shed some light on proposed changes to fix a few problems. These changes impact the current scheduling system and includes a restructuring of the divisions, going from six divisions to four.

The biggest and most widely criticized problem in the current scheduling format is that every team doesn't play each other each season.

Right now as I write this up, I'm watching the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Chicago Blackhawks for the one and only time this season, and the first time since the 2003/2004 season. This is one of the most entertaining first periods I've seen all season.

As previously mentioned in The Four-Seamer, the Leafs haven't played in Chicago for nearly four years. Chicago is one of the most exciting young teams in the NHL, and it's certainly enjoyable watching Chicago's young guns go up against my Leafs. Hell, I even wrote up a blog touting the Blackhawks as a team to watch without having seen them play live on television this season.

The current system of playing divisional opponents eight times a season is over-kill. Especially since the bulk of these games come in home-and-home series and early in the season. It certainly de-values those games to some degree, and fans would certainly rather see a couple of different teams from the opposite conference instead of another two night stand with, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets (if you're a fan of a team in the Central Division). For Western Conference hockey fans, the big example is the ability to see Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals once a year.

Would these changes improve things? It will certainly help to some degree. The system would create four divisions: two with eight teams each, and two with seven teams each. That's a bit strange, meaning 16 teams will play more divisional games than the other 14. These inconsistencies do exist in sports: In Major League Baseball, the American League has 14 teams while the National League has 16 teams.

But the benefits are there. Fans will get to see every big-name star from around the league play their team atleast once a year.

The playoffs could arguably be a bit tougher to make, as the top two seeds in each division qualify for the top four spots, leaving only four other wildcard spots up for grabs for the next best teams. The current system has each division champion occupying the top three spots, leaving the other five for the next best.

There would be more divisional games, but they would be against more teams rather than more against the same teams. And only six per season, giving added importance to divisional rivalries as divisional points impact the six or seven other teams in the divisional standings. This would certainly build some more hype and attention towards these games.

And this balancing would lighten travel burdens for teams, as the divisional realignments would be based more on teams in the same time-zones. This could possibly create greater television viewership and fan support. Younger fans would be able to watch more games as less Western Conference teams in the eastern part of the continent would play teams on the Pacific Coast with a three-hour time difference.

The NHL is certainly on the right track.

Weren't they satisfied with changes made at the lockout? Why now such a sudden overhaul?

It is possible to revamp the schedule so everyone can play each other without having to realign entirely.

And if they did, equality is key. The only reason Major League Baseball gets away with having 14 and 16 is they have no choice. Every team plays pretty much every day so you can't have an odd number of teams in either league.

That isn't the case in the NHL.

I say, contract. Fold two teams (more than a few wouldn't even notice) and go with four divisions of seven if you really want to do this.

But, why do it? Just tweak the sked.
I think this new restructuring will certainly help the leafs and teams of the like with superpowers in their division that they have to play 8 times...we basically have 16 games aq year that are write-offs...

That being said a team like detroit, who has only the blackhawks as real talent in their division will now have a much more difficult schedule...

All in all i think this is a great move, but i agree with Brad, a simple tweak here and there might have been the better option.
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