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Throughout the recently ended NHL lockout, the league maintained the position that not only were they going through with it to help their bottom line, but also for the fans as well.  To be quite honest, how over 300 days of no NHL hockey helps the fans is beyond me, but that’s not the bone I have to pick today.  My beef is with the new reported scheduling system that will be in place for the 2005-06 season.  It goes as follows:

8 games vs divisional rivals (4 away, 4 home)  = 32 games
4 games vs inter-conference opponents (2 away, 2 home)  = 40 games
2 games vs opponents from a team in a division in the opposite conference (1 home, 1 away)  = 10 games

The above adds up to the total of 82 games, just like before.  But the big catch here is, teams will only face a total of 19 different opponents in the season, instead of seeing everyone at least once.  Before, hockey had one of the most balanced schedules in all of professional sports, but with this, they will have the fewest out-of-conference games of any of the ‘Big 4’ sports, excluding the NFL, who play just 18 games in the regular season.  And even though the NFL’s schedule is unbalanced, most, if not every team will play a higher percentage of non-conference games than the NHL.

Let me first say that I can see the point from a marketing perspective.  Using Montreal as an example, I’m sure virtually everyone would rather see more Toronto-Montreal matchups than an appearance from, say Nashville.  By playing more games against divisional opponents, bigger rivalries are formed, games mean more in the standings (more ‘4-pointers’), and, hypothetically, the All-Star game might actually mean something, as participants won’t have actually seen each other through the first half of the season.  Actually, cancel that last thought, since when has the All-Star game meant anything, despite all the attempts to make it more interesting?

Now, let’s look at this from the opposite spectrum.  Fans in Nashville and other currently unproven hockey markets will be deprived the opportunity to see teams like Montreal, Toronto, or, from the other conference, Colorado and Detroit, depending on which is their team.  Instead, we’ll see more of the ever popular Carolina vs Florida ‘classics’, or the always TV-friendly Columbus vs Nashville contests.  Heck, 5 of these games were usually bad enough, now we have to sit through 8 of these?  Give me a break already.

Let’s now have a looksee at what possessed the owners to come up with such a big change so quickly (it’s not like they had much else to worry about, like say, the on-ice game?).  How does this benefit them?  Well first, they save on travel expenses, as it’s much easier to play close to your own province or state than it is to fly to the other side of the country.  Next, there’s the idea that is quickly gaining popularity, specific game pricing for tickets.  More prominent matchups will mean a higher price, while less popular teams will have lower ones.  And now that there’s going to be more important games, that means more higher ticket prices, and even more money in the owners pockets. 

So, who benefits most from this new scheduling format?  Is it you, the fans, who now won’t have the opportunity to see every team once (not like this was the case earlier anyways) or even see highlights of their favourite team playing each team?  Is it better for you that you may now have to pay more to see a ‘higher-prominent’ matchup?  Or, is it better for the owners, who now will save even more money on travel costs and could make more off gate receipts?  Just goes to show you who the owners were really looking out for during this fiasco…