Rinkside Roundtable: Should the NHL change the schedule?

The NHL is reportedly looking at altering the schedule for a more regional-based approach, with the ideology that more geographic rivalry games represent more revenue and more interest. 

SEAN SHAPIRO: In a new recurring feature, the Rinkside Gang gets together to discuss the topic over slack and then we bring it to the public through the magic of internet publishing. 

Personally, I'm not sold on it. But let's leave that up to the group to discuss. Does the NHL schedule need to be changed? And like this?

CAM ROBINSON: We’ve been down this road before. The overly loaded divisional games schedule is built on the back of ‘building rivalries’ but is far more about saving money on travel. The result is that it would dilute basically everything. Fans will be given an opportunity to see opposite conference stars once every two years? 

The strength of individual divisions will be make for a mockery of playoff seeding as inevitably one division will be terribly weak and the top one or two clubs in it will feast away. Meanwhile, a super division will see legit playoff clubs missing out.The only thing the NHL needs to change right now is how the playoffs are run. Give me 1-16 or give me death. True parity will reign supreme and a worthy champion would be crowned. (I’d also accept the old 1-8 seeding).

DAVID ST-LOUIS: My only hope with more regional-based games is that it sparks more tactical diversity. The constantly changing opposition right now makes it a bit useless to customize a system to fit a particular opponent. There are just too many of them. But if the schedule is changed and teams start facing the same opposition much more often, maybe coaches will be inspired to change their tactics to adapt to more frequent opponents. A team could start investing their practice time to develop team-specific counters or attacks, as it will be more worth it.

SHAPIRO: The going back to a seeded, 1 through 8 for the playoffs is big for me. No. 1 through 16 works in video game world, but I get logistical issues with that.I think David's point about tactical things could actually make the game worse... coaches are creates of avoiding risk, they focus too often on how to avoid losing as opposed to trying to win. I worry that too many regional games would also make it a more boring chess match between opponents.

ST-LOUIS: Thousands of people are now tuning in to watch chess matches! It has become more and more popular over the past couple of years...Although I don't think those are the same fans that watch hockey games. Thinking about it, it's true that coaches are so risk-averse that systems could become hyper-defensive -- a year-long playoff hockey experience against the same teams. Playoff hockey is fun because of the high stakes, but I'm not sure I would want to watch 82 games of it. The surprises and creativity of the regular season are what makes regular season hockey exciting.

ROBINSON: I definitely see the logistical issues with a 1-16 format, but I would LOVE it for the ability to actually see the best teams face each other deeper into the playoffs. With the current design we’re constantly seeing something like the No. 4 and No. 6 clubs in the league face off in round one on one side, and then No. 9 an 14 playing each other on the other end. 1-8 seeding without the division slot in the top three would be fine.

J.D. BURKE: So I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been brought up yet (I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness… in Seattle after catching the Seahawks-Niners game), save to throw my weight behind the 1 through 16 seeding and to declare my opposition to more regional or divisional-centric schedules

.Here’s the way I see it. The audience has had to take it on the chin a fair bit the last little while, all in the name of raising revenue, whether it’s the board ads or the helmet/jersey advertising (one’s mileage may vary there, and even if I’m not particularly upset, I can at least understand why some fans might be by those ads). Maybe the NHL can spare a little of that excess revenue to make a 1 through 16 playoff seeding logistically feasible? I’d call that a fair trade off.I think this format would add extra weight to the regular season, and I’m all for that. You’ll also see the later rounds have a bit more best on best fare than they do at present, and who doesn’t want that?

RYAN LAMBERT: Seems to me that this supposedly new schedule — it was definitely in effect in the early days of the cap era — is a cost-cutting measure, plain and simple. You can say it heats up "local" rivalries or whatever, but if they were smart, they would have pitched this as the thing everyone really liked from the 56-game COVID-shortened season: 

More games being presented as "baseball series"-type matchups.Everyone liked when it would be a home-and-home with a relatively nearby rival, or when a team would play two in a row in Tampa. That, too, would save on travel costs but it would be presented as a return to something everyone liked.But this is the NHL so everything is going to be marketed as "this will increase revenue," whether it does or not, and more specifically, whether any fans care about higher revenue (which they do not and should not).

SHAPIRO: For me, I keep coming back to, at one point is this too much? I don't want rivalries forced, I want them to naturally develop and frankly, while getting Battle of Alberta more often would be nice, do we want that with the trade off trying to figure out how to sell tickets to six different viewings each season of Dallas-Nashville? That's gonna get stale, and those markets need variety.If anything, I can get on board for the baseball series with all of this, more home-and-homes, but don't make me watch St. Louis-Arizona a dozen times a season or something like that.

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