Out of all the ways the 2013-14 NHL schedule will differ from last season’s, the most obvious one is the best.
Of course, I’m talking about the fact there’ll be 82 games instead of 48 in the league’s next go-around. While I contend most major-league sports seasons are too long by about 20 percent, I certainly prefer six months of hockey over three.
Beyond the length of the season, though, I see the NHL’s new scheduling matrix as superior to anything it’s used in at least a decade. My primary reason for feeling this way? Each team will play every other team in the league at least twice.
After the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL boosted the number of games against each divisional opponent to eight, while matchups against the opposite conference were pared down to nearly nothing. That was a mistake, because novelty is critical to keep interest up in a long season.
Divisonal rivalries usually boost the buzz, but even those heated battles start to lose their steam when they’re beaten into the ground. The key to keeping them fresh is a good balance between familiarity and freshness.
Also, if a league is truly national, it needs to get its stars into every market at least once a year. For the NHL, which struggles to keep fans interested after their hometown teams get knocked out of the playoffs, exposing the breadth of its talent is especially critical. What better way to get to know an out-of-market team than when they come into your barn to play your squad?
The league cut division battles to six against each rival a few years back, and they will further reduce to five or four in 2013-14, depending on opponent. But whatever might be lost in the winnowing process could be made up – and then some – with the retro divisional playoff format. Much like was the case in the 1980s and early ’90s, the first two rounds of the postseason will exclusively feature division foes.
There are other benefits to the NHL’s changes for next season, particularly for clubs like Detroit and Columbus who will now play the great majority of their games in their own time zone. The Penguins will likely benefit at the gate from seeing the Blue Jackets and Capitals a couple more times, as all will join the newly-constructed Metropolitan Division in the fall.
However, if we’re discussing what’s best for the league as a whole, look no further than a slate of matchups against teams all across the continent.
We discussed the 2013-14 NHL schedule and much more on the Season 3 finale of the Gospel of Hockey podcast, part of the FanSided Radio Network. Larry Snyder joined me for the half-hour program, which also included Olympic orientation camp debate and what the Penguins could do to get under the salary cap before October.
Also, new City of Champions writer Hunter Hodies stopped by near the end of the show for his Gospel of Hockey debut. Thanks for listening to the show and we’ll talk to you again in September!