The Critical 'I'

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

A SHORTER SCHEDULE
getting short
So, it appears that no matter when the next hockey season gets underway, there'll be less of it. The NHL and players' union are working on a new scheduling formula that will result in a reduction of regular-season games, from the current 82 to 72, with no cross-conference play at all.
Sources tell TSN the league has a working model for a 72-games season that would eliminate all interlocking play between the Eastern and Western Conference teams.

Under this proposal, which has tremendous support amongst most NHL owners, each team would: play its four division rivals eight times for a total of 32 divisional games; play its 10 remaining conference rivals four times each for a total of 40 conference games and a grand total of 72 games.
I can understand why both sides would favor a reduction: The players welcome a less-intensive schedule that's not as grueling, and the owners can ditch games against the other conference that tend not to sell as well anyway. You could argue that fewer games would allow players to play at a higher energy level, thus perhaps actually increasing the scoring and the general quality of play.

Still, I'm not particularly for it. For one thing, I'm of the minority opinion that there's actually not enough hockey, as it is:
And contrary to (apparently) the rest of the world, I don't think there's enough NHL hockey played throughout the year; the summers are unbearable for me, sports-wise.
Yes, you read that right--in my mind, 82 games, plus playoffs, is not enough for me. 100, 150 games? Maybe closer to fine. (Okay, I'm joking; but it irks me to constantly hear alleged hockey fans bitch about "too many games", as though they'd rather watch something else...)

It's not like it's a dramatic reduction; 72 games is still a pretty good run. What I don't like is the idea of killing off East-West matchups. I don't want to see a Major League Baseball-style setup of two separate leagues (although even MLB now has regular limited interleague play). I'm not happy about the current half-assed approach the NHL takes with this, with teams playing cross-conference rivals once per year, or in some cases, not at all. The NBA manages to get a full slate of home-and-away East-West games worked into their schedule, and they have basically the same number of teams; why is it such a problem for the NHL to do the same?

This is more of an irrational complaint by me; I realize most Western teams are tough ticket sells in the Eastern Conference, and vice versa (the Maple Leafs in western Canada being the notable exception), so it makes sense that that would be where the fat would be cut. But personally, I like seeing the Western teams come into town; hell, I liked it when the Winnipeg Jets, terrible as they were, came into town back in the day. Again, I'm in the minority here.

It does occur to me that the rollout of a shortened schedule could have an impact on the resolution of a new collective bargaining agreement. Fewer games would be a valid justification for salary reductions, one I daresay the players would accept. That could be used as the basis for a general league-wide trimming of individual contracts, logically by the same 12 percent that the regular season would be shortened by (or somewhat less, based on negotiation). If the owners could convince the players to somehow institute this reduction for a set period of time--say, the next three years--it might serve as an acceptable alternative to the owners' desire for a salary cap. It would result in lower average payrolls, at least for a little while. Something to chew on, anyway...