Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NHL's game schedule format change expected by next season

It has been talked about and it has been of much debate in the two years since the 2005 lockout. An unbalanced, intraconference-laden game schedule for each of the 30 National Hockey League teams was intended to emphasize rivalries and especially for the Western Conference teams, cut down on travel expense. Apparently, it might have been too much of a good thing when it came to division rivals playing each other eight times in a single season. At least for some, that schedule format has hurt a handful of teams more than it helped.

After a four-hour meeting with the owners on Tuesday in Chicago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the Board of Governors have agreed to meet in late November to formally vote on a new game schedule format that will be more balanced and see teams play the opposite conference teams at least once per season. During the 2007 All-Star break in Dallas eight months ago, a proposal to change the schedule format fell just one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed. Much of the reason why primarily had to do with the desire to have the current format complete a three-year cycle of any team playing an opposite conference opponent at least once.

The current format has each team play their each of their division rivals eight times and a total of 10 games against non-conference opponents (five of them as road games). What new schedule format that will be used has yet to be agreed upon.

In my opinion, this is sorely needed. I love division rivalry games like the next diehard hockey fan. But sometimes even when best served in rekindling old rivalries or jumpstarting new rivalries, it may be too much or better yet, it could potentially get stale. This would be especially the case if both division teams are non-playoff factors. There is a need for fans to see stars from the opposite conference at least once a year. It makes sense. The media mentions Sidney Crosby having yet to visit some Western Conference cities in his infant career and he's now entering his third season already.

Whatever is decided upon by the commissioner and the Board of Governors, there needs to be a balance between having the right amount of rivalry games and having room to schedule at least one game against each of the 15 opposite conference teams per season.

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