With the NHL and NHLPA meeting today to resume negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement – and with the players expected to make a counter-offer to the owners’ proposal from last week – there’s a lot of buzz about the possibility of the 2012-13 season beginning on January 19.
There’s precedent in this schedule, as the abbreviated 1995 slate began on January 20, with the Stanley Cup Finals ending on June 24. While that timeline could be used for this season, the league’s alignment today is drastically different from what it was in 1995, so a new scheduling formula will be needed.
In 1995, the Detroit Red Wings played four of their five Central Division brethren five times for twenty games. They saw the remaining Central Division foe, the Toronto Maple Leafs, four times, for a total of 24 games against their own division. The Wings faced the six Pacific Division teams four times each for another 24 games, resulting in a 48-game schedule.
As the conferences were unbalanced at the time, a different formula would have been required in the two seven-team divisions of the Eastern Conference… I’m not going to get into that.
It’s pretty much assumed that the same intra-conference schedule would be kept for 2013 but now those conferences are made up of fifteen teams split across three divisions. Five games against four divisional opponents plus four games against ten gives us a 60 game season – unmanageable in the time allotted.
What other options do we have? That depends on how you want to balance things out.
Seven games against divisional opponents and two games against everyone else in the conference puts each team at exactly 48 games but is heavily skewed toward the divisional rivalries.
A more even balance could be four games against the division and three against the rest of the conference to get to 46. The remaining two could be randomly selected (or “rivalry matchups”) from either the rest of the conference or the opposing conference (depending on how much the league wants to enforce the intra-conference schedule).
If the league wanted to eliminate the intra-conference aspect of the schedule, I do think there’s an interesting third option. Four games against each team in the division and two games against the rest of the conference for a total of 36 games, leaving 12 available slots to get in an appearance against almost every team in the opposing conference. It’s far from perfect and I have no solution for picking which teams from the opposite conference would be skipped over. I also can’t speak for travel concerns for the teams. I’ve always said, though, that I prefer to see the Red Wings get to play more of the Original Six and this makes that possible.
In all likelihood, I think we’ll see the second option instituted. That is, if a deal can even be reached in time for there to be a season.