Long Division: NHL Schedule Ignores History to Focus on Geography

While the Detroit Red Wings may be happy with the new division-friendly schedule in terms of team travel, the fans don’t seem to be.

As per the new NHL schedule, teams will now face divisional opponents a whopping eight times each, or 32 of their 82 total games. Seventy-two games are against teams in their own conference, and games against the other conference (one game each against two divisions, alternating yearly) will round out the final ten. Wouldn’t you know it – the Central Division, featuring two Original Six teams, will not face the Northeast Division, featuring two more. Detroit will not play the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Well, after September. The Wings do meet the Leafs for a home and home series to close out the exhibition schedule. Does that really even count?

Not seeing the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres can be forgiven. Sure, the Bruins are part of the Original Six too, but there doesn’t seem to be the sense of a classic battle with them. As exciting as the Ottawa Senators can be, that’s fine too. We won’t get to see Dominik Hasek in what could be his final season, but we all know how his retirements go. Oh, we’ll sit through three straight games against the Chicago Blackhawks from October 27 to November 1. They have Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Lapointe and Adrian Aucoin now! Those games might be fun. We’ll even accept the two games in a row visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets right before that. The rivalry might build there with Adam Foote donning the green bee. But the fans want to see Toronto and Montreal. To try and rebuild the game around the fans and to take a part of history away from them can’t be the right thing for the NHL to do. Sure, when April comes and the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are points away from each other, one team could get an edge playing them late in the season. Only problem is — they don’t. Those two teams square off once in March and once in April. They meet eight times, but not when it counts. The Edmonton Oilers play the Calgary Flames eight times (twelve if you count preseason), and yet just twice after January 23.

The NHL can’t predict who will be fighting for a division title in April. They did make the final week of the season all divisional games, didn’t they? Considering the Red Wings play the Dallas Stars one night before they close the season in Nashville, it doesn’t appear they did. Let’s be realistic here, no matter what moves these teams made during the off-season, does it make much sense for the Wings to play every team in the Central except St. Louis in April? Since the divisional re-alignment of the league created the Central Division, only one season did one of those two teams not win the Central, and the Dallas Stars that did aren’t there anymore.

So, what does this new schedule do? Games against your own division really only matter if winning them counts for something other than two points nobody needs. If those games are going to be scattered throughout the season and not near the end when winning games is more crucial, why not cut them by two or four apiece, and let the fans see the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens in December?nbsp; In either 2006-2007 or 2007-2008, the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks won’t play games against the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens. The All-Canadian triple-header that has been so successful in the past few seasons won’t exist. And it’s a good bet that that will be harder to swallow than St. Louis not getting to play Carolina this season.

The NHL brought in shootouts and eliminated tie games to please the fans. Their marketing plan will allow fans to see things they couldn’t see before. Yes, they did have to throw together a 2,460-game schedule rather quickly, although this format seems rather thought out, but for the wrong reason. The fans want to see all rivalries, not just divisional.

Would we be that upset if the Wings play Columbus only six times?