With the introduction of a new scheduling format, fellow hockey bloggers and news organizations are voicing their strong opinions regarding the matter. I want to first present many of the opinions out there before presenting my own.
Before getting to the opinions, let me cover some of the basic highlights of the 2005-2006 season regarding the Detroit Red Wings schedule. The season opener is against the St. Louis Blues at home on October 5. Every team will be playing that day to start off the regular season with a bang. In total, the Wings will play seven home and home series. Each team plays their division opponents a total of eight times. In the Wingsâ€™ case, they will see Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, and Columbus at home and then away four times a season.
They will also play all of their Western Conference opponents outside of the division (10 other teams). Against their Eastern Conference foes, the Wings only get to play a total of 10 games. Five Eastern Conference teams from one division will host the Wings. This season the Southeast Division, consisting of Tampa Bay, Florida, Washington, Atlanta, and Carolina, will all be visited by the Wings. Detroit hosts another five teams in the Eastern Conference. The Atlantic Division, composed of the Devils, Flyers, Rangers, Islanders, and Penguins, will visit Hockeytown. On December 12, Detroit will see Pittsburgh with their newly acquired phenom, Sidney Crosby.
For the traditional New Yearâ€™s Eve game, Joe Louis arena will feature Columbus v. Wings. On February 1, during Super Bowl week, the St. Louis Blues will visit Detroit. In the last week of October, the Wings play away in Columbus for two consecutive games then go on to play Chicago for three straight games.
While Hockeytown fans are pleased with the return of hockey, many arenâ€™t overjoyed with the new schedule.
“It’s an absolute joke,” said David Miller, a 25-year season-ticket holder from West Bloomfield. “It used to be that there were games you wouldn’t give up your tickets for, regular-season games you looked forward to. That isn’t the case anymore.”
Missing from this seasonâ€™s schedule are fellow Original Six teams, Boston, Montreal, and Toronto. Instead, focus will be placed on divisional rivalries. Even Red Wings general manager, Ken Holland, acknowledges the increase of games against divisional foes. “There are some quirks in the schedule, where the league is trying to emphasize the divisional rivalries,” Holland said.
Original Six teams have been rivals for ages and always marking special and competitive games. However, the new scheduling changes will only allow the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers to visit Joe Louis only once every three years. The Wings host the Rangers on January 14. In an exhibition game on September 30, Toronto will make a brief appearance in Hockeytown. Unlike other leagues, the NHL stands apart with the history of the game and its Original Six teams. Many fans view this new scheduling format as ridicule to the sport and its history.
Rick Schulte of Wyandotte: â€œYou can’t forget the history of the game, but with this schedule, the league is turning its back on that history.â€
Jennifer Starchenko of Woodhaven: â€œYou’re taking away from the tradition of the game. Those rivalries are a big part of the NHL.â€
Laura Agemak of Flat Rock: â€œDetroit is part of the Original Six. The hard-core hockey fans are going to be upset with this. They’ll miss those teams.â€
Holland understands the fansâ€™ frustration, but understands the NHLâ€™s attempt to foster stronger divisional rivalries.
â€I can go both ways,â€ he said. â€œOn the one hand, not to play Toronto, Montreal and Boston, I can understand (fans’ frustration). You need rivalries and those are, and were, great rivalries. But we’re going to have to build other rivalries. The feeling around the league is when you start seeing teams more and more, you can build rivalriesâ€¦I’d love to see more Montreal, more Boston and more Toronto. But there are some teams in the East that we don’t have any relationship with. Could they have handpicked certain teams? Maybe that’s something I can bring up at a general managers meeting down the road.â€
The Detroit News conducted an online poll asking readers the following: â€œNo Toronto, no Montreal, no Boston for the Red Wings this season. But plenty of Columbus and Nashville. Is an NHL schedule that emphasizes intradivision play good for the game?â€ 90.06% of those who responded believed that it was not good for the game while 9.94% believed that intradivisional rivalries would help the game. Fans were also given the option to leave comments regarding the poll and their individual opinions. Here are some of the comments left:
GhostofProbert from Toledo, OH – â€œIn a way, this is a totally rational move by the NHL, in that it essentially pits Original Six teams with huge drawing power (Detroit, Toronto) against smaller market teams, the very teams that need that boost to revitalize their fan base. Having said that, as both a fan and student of the game, this strategy totally ignores the history of the game. There should always be a special category of match-ups, in my opinion, the “Original Six” match-ups. This category of games should be ranked very highly in any optimization model (which is the technique used to devise the schedule) with the goal of maximizing these matchups (with other constraints). Unfortunately, hockey fans such as Detroit fans (of which I am obviously a member) are the least of the NHL’s worries…we are so loyal and Detroit such a strong market that, paradoxically, our wishes are ignored. I’m sure people in Toronto and Montreal are feeling the same pinch.
T Unit from Sterling Heights, MI – â€œThis is an outrageous demand that you put upon us as Detroit Red Wings fans. Gary Bettman and the NHL have already alienated so many fans with their stupidity in the last year, it is sad that we must go through yet another hardship. First we have to wait a year to see “professional hockey,” although it was entertaining to watch the mechanics play on UPN in place of the Wings. Then we have to ship out fan-favorite players because we’re not allowed to pay so much for them anymore under this new salary cap. Finally we have to play this annoyance of 24 games against St. Louis, Columbus, and Nashville. I’m not sure what the NHL is trying to do, but if they wanted the Red Wings to not be as dominant under this cap, it seems they might have made the wrong move. â€˜Red-Wing-Proofingâ€™ the NHL seems improbable when you give them 24 wins for free.â€
Phil at The NHL is Back voiced his concerns, â€œHey, at least you arenâ€™t a Hawks or a Wings fan. They play each other back to back to back. Thatâ€™s right. Three games in a row versus the same team.â€
Brett at Red Line Sports believes that the 2005-2006 schedule really stinks.
This is how the NHL pays back the seventeen fans it has left? With all of the NHL’s jabbering about fixing the game and making it more fan friendly, which one would reasonably think should include marketing the snot out of it, the best the NHL think-tanks can come up with is this flaming dung-muffin.
While Brett believes that emphasizing inter-conference especially intradivisional play will help build rivalries and limit travel costs/time, he is especially concerned with the inability to play most of the opposite conference. Forty percent of the schedule is spent playing within oneâ€™s division. You donâ€™t need to play a grand total of eight games a season to develop a rivalry.
Some may say that the added divisional emphasis is long overdue. But, keep in mind that it comes with a price tag. A steep one. There will be no visits to Canuck-ville (or many Western teams) from the likes of Mario Lemieux, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and the defeding Cup Champs, Dan Heatley & Ilya Kovalchuk, Martin Brodeur, Alexander Ovechkin, and more importantly, the NHL’s new poster child, Sidney Crosby.
As a fan of hockey in general, I’m a little ticked off. As a fan of the Canucks, I’m downright choked.
A reader of Brettâ€™s blog with the username Rethinking the NHL voiced his own thoughts:
They should consider making each team play 4 games against each divisional rival (16 games), 2 games against each team in the other conference (30 games), and 3 or 4 games against nondivisional foes within the conference (32 games). All in all, a nice 78-game schedule where every team hosts each of the other teams at least once and NO team plays more than two home games against the same team. Also, they should return to the win-loss-tie format that they never should have messed with in the first place (2 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, zilch for a loss).
Hockey Country, an Ottawa Senator blog, talked about how the new format affected the Sens:
With the new schedule set-up and a greater emphasis placed on inter-divisional play (which for the Sens means facing the Leafs and Habs eight times), we will unfortunately see less of the Western Conference clubs. In fact, the Sens don’t play a Western Conference team until December when the Kings come to town on the 2nd. Under the new-set up, every year, a team only plays teams from one division of the other conference. For the Sens, it’s the Pacific, which means the grueling West Coast road trips are still on tap (something I’m sure most Eastern teams are glad to be seeing less of).
Eric at Off Wing Opinion has similar concerns to many fans and in a recent entry, his thoughts were covered in sarcasm:
In Denver, this means two more games with Vancouver. On Long Island, that means two more games with the hated Rangers.
Here in Washington, it means six more games with Carolina, Atlanta and Florida. I’ve died and gone to heaven!
David Singer at The Ice Block strongly opposes Eric and others with the same opinions. He believes that Wings fans and other Original Six team fans should stop complaining.
The NHL can do no right according to some.
You want more passion in your games? Have some rivalries says the NHL, and out come the whiners. â€œWe donâ€™t get to see every â€˜Original Sixâ€™ team every year!”
Huh?! So? Who cares – the Wings played the Canadiens once in the 2003-04 season. Memorable it wasnâ€™t – but hey – the jerseys were old school and we wouldnâ€™t want to miss that! Complaining that the Habs-Wings game is being replaced by a divisional game against the Predators or Blue Jackets is just asinine. The Predators and Wings are developing a nice rivalry, one that probably would have blossomed well if there was a season last year (as they played a six-game playoff series against each other during the 2003-04 playoffs). The Blue Jackets are another new team, yes, but youâ€™re also talking about adding games against the Blues and Blackhawks – and remember, rivalries will only grow with the increase in number of games played.
The reality is the Wings will play the Habs, but instead of once per season, itâ€™s twice in one season every three years. The reduction is one game per three seasons. Wow, break out the Kleenex, I can only imagine the intense game that weâ€™ll all miss.
But David seems to be in the minority, Boltsmag doesnâ€™t even want to think about all the games Tampa Bay plays against their divisional foes: â€œI get sick looking at how many times the Lightning play the Panthers or Hurricanes or Thrashers (sidenote – any other Tampa Bay resident mistaking THrashers for Threshers lately?). The Panthers and Bolts play a home-and-home series on the 7th and 8th of October and 2 games within a week in April.â€
Melissa, who just started a blog covering Colorado for Most Valuable Network, believes that this format will make certain teams (like Tampa, Detroit, or even San Jose) easy conference titles while weakening other teamsâ€™ chances.
She points out that in the Central Division, Detroit brought in a divisional, conference, and league title with 109 points. St. Louis and Nashville nearly missed the cut with 91 points. Other division teams, Chicago and Columbus, werenâ€™t even close. Respectively, they had 59 and 62 points placing Chicago second to last in the entire league. Melissa is worried about her team, Colorado. The Avs took fourth overall in their conference with 100 points placing only second in their division. The Canucks were up by one point and the Flames finished behind the Avs with 94 points (3 more than Nashville and St. Louis). While Minnesota and Edmonton did not make the playoffs, they at least were up on the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets by over 20 points.
By adding two more games against each divisional opponent, her worries only compound. Melissa can only hope that with the new salary cap teams like Chicago and Columbus will now be placed on a more equal competitive level with Detroit. This makes Colorado in a similar boat with Detroit instead of last seasonâ€™s disparity. â€œThat way, if the Avalanche are facing relatively equal and tough opponents, at least their non-divisional opponents will also have to work harder to earn their points.â€ Another chance to even out the field will be the new points format. Without ties, stronger teams in weak divisions wonâ€™t gain as many points. At least hopefully for her team.
She also noted a similar or even worse difference in the Eastern Conference between the Northeast and Southeast divisions.
The Northeast Division is probably the most competitive division in the entire league: 4 out of the 5 teams made it into the playoffs, and of the 4 teams, 3 teams had over 100 points. Furthermore, the only team that didnâ€™t make the playoffs, Buffalo, was only 6 points behind the last 3 playoff teams, and ranked second among non-playoff teams, eighteenth in the league overall. Meanwhile, the Southeast Division was probably the least competitive in the NHL. Tampa was the only team in the division to earn a playoff berth; the other 4 teams, Atlanta, Carolina, Florida and Washington werenâ€™t even close, together averaging a mere 72 points total.
In my mind, everyone brings up very valid points. As a hockey fan, I really donâ€™t want to play any team eight times a season much less Columbus. While our rivalry with Nashville was already building in the 2003-2004 season, I donâ€™t want to watch back-to-back games against the Blue Jackets. And the fact that I canâ€™t watch my beloved team face off with historically strong Original Six rivals is really disappointing. I realize that even before the lockout the Wings didnâ€™t yearly play Toronto or Montreal, but I had hoped that with the new CBA a change would happen.
My favorite aspect of the game is the rivalry. I remember last Christmas watching the infamous Wings game against Colorado with â€œThe Turtle.â€ My Dad and I started off watching the game at a party. Within ten minutes, the room filled with cousins and uncles surrounding the big screen cheering on Darren McCarty, Brendan Shanahan, and more. I especially took great delight in watching Roy take a beating. While I realize that the Wings will play Colorado four times this season, theyâ€™ll be losing competitive rivalry games against the Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs.