Starting next season, the NHL will revert back to the system used before the lockout. Each team will play the other four teams in their division six times (3 home games and 3 road games) and play the other 10 teams in their conference four times (2 home games and 2 road games). The remaining 18 games will be played against the teams in the other conference. That ensures that each team will play every other team in the league at least one time during the regular season.
Beginning with the 2005-2006 season, the NHL started using a new schedule structure. The new system had each team play 2 additional games against the other four teams in their division (four home games, four road games). They still played four games against the ten teams in the other two divisions in their conference (2 home games and 2 road games). The remaining 10 games were played against ten teams from the other conference (5 at home against one division, 5 on the road against another division). Teams did not play the 5 teams in the third division of the other conference. The interconference matchups rotated every season and after 3 seasons, every team had played every team in the other conference both at home and on the road once.
When the league changed the schedule structure, they were trying to emphasize rivalries within the divisions. The problem was that not many rivalries within divisions existed outside of the Atlantic and Northeast divisions.
Hold on a second. Was the NHL trying to start new rivalries to get more people interested in the sport and bring back the fans they lost after cancelling an entire season?
Establishing new rivalries was just one of the ways that the league was trying to reestablish itself in a country that loves Baseball, Football, and watching cars drive in circles for 3 hours.
Some owners had problems with this new system almost as soon as it was put in place. Because the Red Wings and Blackhawks are in the Western conference, they would not be able to maintain their rivalries with the other 4 Original Six teams in the Eastern conference. The Red Wings didn’t really consider the Predators or the Blue Jackets to be great rivals. Honestly, no one saw those matchups as big rivalries either.
In just 3 seasons under the new system, games between teams like the Red Wings and Blue Jackets have become much more entertaining not only because they play each other more often, but because the Blue Jackets, Preds, and Blues have actually been putting up a fight.
Additionally, many teams in the Western conference would have to wait 2 or 3 years before playing a home game against the Capitals or Penguins. That meant no Ovechkin and no Crosby. Honestly? Are they saying that the only way they can put asses in the seats is to have Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin come play in their arenas?
It’s not as if the teams in the west have no young, talented players. There’s Marek Svatos and Paul Stastny in Colorado, Dion Phaneuf in Calgary, and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago just to name a few. Maybe they should try promoting their own players?
I’ll concede that Crosby and Ovechkin are big draws for a team in a small market. But only about 20,000 people will actually be able to watch the game at the arena. The majority of fans in those markets are still going to be watching on TV.
So why now, must every team play every other team once during the regular season? Before 1997, the teams in Baseball’s National League and American League never played each other except during the World Series. Teams never complained that the best players in the National League never played the teams in the American League and vise versa. Even with interleague play, teams still don’t play every other team in Major League Baseball.
New rivalries actually began popping up all over the country. The Subway Series (Mets vs. Yankees), Windy City Series (Cubs vs. White Sox), and the Bay Bridge Series (Athletics vs. Giants) are some of the more popular interleague rivalries that started because of the new schedule adopted by Major League Baseball.
The NHL should have given the new system more time to see if the new rivalries would actually pick up. Rivalries do not just start overnight. Teams have to play each other more often to let the seeds planted grow into entertaining rivalries. No offense to the western conference teams, but as a Rangers fan, I would much rather watch the Rangers play the Islanders or Devils or Flyers than the Red Wings, Stars, or Flames. While those interconference games are entertaining, the games against the Islanders, Devils, and Flyers just mean more in the standings. That alone makes the games more intense and the playoff races much more exciting.