Sunday, January 28, 2007

Paging The NHL

So as I was watching the third period of this not too thrilling Avs-Wings game (Detroit's dominating them making a 1-0 lead feel like 5-0), I stumbled across some more "great news." As it turned out, the league's 55th All Star Game took it on the chin last Wednesday. Just how bad was it? Compared to 2004 when they ran the game on a weekend, they dropped 76 percent. The most disturbing aspect:

While Wednesday's game was the most-watched cable show that night in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, it did not place among the top 20 cable shows in NHL markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington and Miami.

Anyone hear the alarms going off yet? Look. We all knew moving the game to a weeknight on a station (Versus, OLN or Nature and Pioneering) few could find was not a wise move. Especially when you consider their stiff competition in American Idol. I might be one of the few who don't watch it but many do just to hear what kind of criticism Simon will say. Or maybe they just watch for Paula Abdul?

I just don't see how this is positive for a league that has lost interest. They're trying to rebuild the game. Fyi...it's not working! When diehard fans who go back 40 years admit that they didn't watch the NHL's marquee game, it's not a good sign. Part of the problem is it's become an exhibition with little passion showed. There's absolutely no intensity. But what can be done? Players don't want to get hurt in such a game which explains the lack of physicality.

I don't agree with taking an entire week off either. It kills the momentum. Three days is plenty of time to rest. In a league where there already are too many games with the playoffs extending into the summer heat of June, there's no reason for it. Personally, I feel they should cut down to either 76 or 72 games. But that will never happen. I also believe the regular season needs to finish a little earlier. This way they can have more of a big stage than getting overshadowed by the NBA. The postseason should be over by the end of May.

One of the big topics discussed by NBC studio host Bill Clement along with sidekicks Ray Ferraro and the controversial Brett Hull was the unbalanced schedule. The consensus was that they should ditch it because not every Western hockey fan will get to see the league's best young player Sidney Crosby. Ferraro went out of his way to trash the Northeast Board of Governors for voting to keep it the way it is, ending a three-year cycle next season. I am pretty mixed on this whole issue because I like rivalry games. And when you can play your divisional foes eight times, it puts more emphasis on it and could mean closer races although you'd never know it by how uncompetitive the Atlantic is. I also understand Ferraro and Hull's point about selling the game. If only there were a way to satisfy all parties. Maybe play divisional foes seven times a year instead of eight?

At present there are 82 games played. This is the breakdown:

vs division foes: 8 each totaling 32 games
rest of conference: 4 each totaling 40 games
2 divisions from other conf: 1 each totaling 10 games

The league dilemma is that one conference division won't see everyone. Of course, it's hard to fix this under the current format. When natural Original Six rivals such as Toronto and Chicago meet for the first time in almost five years, there's a problem. I think every Original Six should play each other every year. So how can it be possible under this format? It can't.

What would I do? Let's try something that could make everyone happy:

vs division foes: 7 each totaling 28 games
rest of conference: 4 each totaling 40 games

Total so far: 68 games

That leaves 14 for the opposing conference which wouldn't be bad. You'd get to play almost everyone. So at worst, you'd see a Crosby, Ovechin, Spezza, Brodeur, Hossa, Phaneuf, Kopitar, Thornton, Kiprusoff, Havlat from the other conference every two years.

Here's another option:

vs division foes: 8 each totaling 32 games
rest of conference: 3 each totaling 30 games

Total so far: 62 games

Who needs to see the other two divisions in your conference more than three times? Missing one Florida game isn't going to be too upsetting. The only problem I see is who gets the extra home game? One team will have 2 home games while the other gets only 1. And if it can be worked out to satisfy everyone, that leaves 20 games on the schedule meaning you would get to play everyone at least once in the other conference. But what would be the need for playing Games 78, 79, 80, 81 and 82? But there's no way they'd decrease to an odd amount of games (77). There wouldn't be a balance.

Dare we suggest Option 3:

vs division foes: 8 each totaling 32 games
rest of conference: 2 each totaling 20 games

Total so far: 52 games

This would leave 30 games against the other conference, meaning you'd get to play each team twice at home and on the road. It also would mean you play the other two divisions in your conference one at home and once on the road. The dilemma is fairly obvious. It would put a lot of wear and tear in regards to travel which was the main reason they made the switch to the unbalanced schedule in the first place. So what about using this formula and subtracting 10 games? That would total 72 games. Everyone would still see the other conference at least once. Use the extra five games to play one opposing conference division again. So let's try an example:

Rangers- played all 3 Western Conference divisions. They hosted the Central. So Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Columbus and St. Louis aren't happy cause they didn't see Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers play those other five in each city.

It would be a good way to create rivalries with the other conference because even if you only see these teams once the next year, it would add more intensity to those games.

So, can it be done in the future? I guess we'll have to wait another year.

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