The NHL Board of Poorly-Defined Misers have decided to pull the rug out from underneath their Man of the Hour, Gary Bettman, for once. Don't get too excited, Captain Dumb-Dumb still very much has a job as Commissioner. This decision, however, does make sense for the league; they're ditching the unbalanced schedule.
While they couldn't get it right to have the home teams go back to wearing white at home (for some reason this was a hard decision to make with the new OMGWTFRBKEDGE jerseys this year where each team only has a white and a dark uniform, no thirds) they did get this decision right to stop having divisional opponents play every other game against each other.
This story from The Hockey News makes mention of a few plans that the league was looking into to readjust so that each team will play everyone else in the league at least once. However, this blog's good friend Brian Burke, the ever quotable media slut, has chimed in to USA Today to say that the leading sentiment amongst the executives is to decrease the number of games against divisional opponents to seven (it is eight right now) which would help to up the number of interconference games from the laughably awful and boring 10 up to 15.
They're going with the baby steps approach apparently. It's probably smarter to do that since big steps seem to be the ones the league screws up the most, however, how hard would it really be to just go back to the old way of drawing up the schedule? They did it that way for years upon years but now they need a cute little mathematical equation to get things done.
The reasoning for doing the unbalanced schedule was boneheaded from the start. The NHL thought that by having teams duking it out for the divisional crown play each other eight times in the regular season that it would help spur on rivalries and make those games the most cutthroat of them all - to create a playoff atmosphere in the regular season and get teams to really dislike each other then so that when/if they face off in the playoffs that'll REALLY set the stage for good TV....I mean, hockey action.
Funny thing about the best laid plans though... the NHL in an effort to create more rivalries like Avalanche v. Red Wings; two teams that only played a handful of times in the regular season and made their killing on each other in the playoffs. They figured on familiarity breeding contempt, and last season it looked like we'd have just that with Buffalo and Ottawa. After Chris Drury got blown up unknowingly by Sens semi-goon Chris Neil, all hell broke loose in that game as well as their follow-up game in Ottawa.
When the playoffs rolled around, the tempers had cooled because all matters had been hashed out on the ice during those regular season matchups. The result? Along with a stone-cold gameplan by the Sens to muck things up and slow down the game - there were no brou-ha-ha's, no cutthroat play and most importantly, no seven-game series chock full o' drama.
With that failed plan out of the way, now the NHL can fall back on their much hated Plan B:
Learning to market itself and its stars to all 30 cities and beyond.
Yes, I know, it's a daunting mission that the NHL tried their damnedest to avoid what with the unbalanced schedule making sure that some cities wouldn't see some superstar players for up to five or six years. Considering the bulk of the new supertalent is in the Eastern Conference and many of the hockey fanatical cities are in the Western Conference this presented the NHL with a huge problem. What good is it to have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same team if some Western Conference cities will only get to see them once every five or six years? They might as well be Halley's Comet.
That's where this new plan for scheduling still manages to fall short. Instead of every five or six years, these new stars may get to come around once every two (if I'm understanding the plan correctly that is). Sure, comparably that's better - but back in the good ole days, everyone got to see every city in the league.
Is that so freakin' bad? Western Conference teams don't care about the travel since they get hammered on travel as it is already. Eastern Conference teams are excited that they'll get to either go back to home cities in Canada or get to go to Los Angeles once a year to star gaze and party or visit Minnesota and find out what its like to play hockey in an American city that really gives a damn about the game.
OK so that's the only reason to be excited to go to Minnesota in winter - let's just move on.
What I like most about this move by the Board of Governors is that its a direct shot across the bow of Gary Bettman. The unbalanced schedule was his big fat stupid idea to generate false drama and interest in the game. Much like other Bettman bad ideas, this one fell haplessly short of expectations and in my idealistic mind I'd like to see that this move to reverse direction on the schedule will be the first of many reversals to bring the game back.
Of course, that's probably being way too optimistic and thoroughly unrealistic.