Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Morrison delivers his insights into the world of hockey, on and off the ice.
NHL returning to old schedule
Thursday, November 29, 2007 | 10:40 PM ET
By Scott Morrison
Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Morrison is in Pebble Beach, Calif., covering the NHL board of governors meetings.
As expected, the NHL turned back the clock on Thursday.
They may turn it back even further in a year or so.
Beginning next season, the league will revert back to the schedule matrix used prior to the lockout, four seasons ago. Put simply, that means every team will play each other at least once.
So, the games against division rivals will be reduced from eight to six, a merciful move for some, a concern for other teams. Games against conference rivals will remain at four apiece, with a single game against all of the other conference teams. Under the current system, teams play just 10 games against the other conference, missing five teams every year.
In the new/old system, that leaves three at-large, or wild-card games which, in the case of Canadian teams, will be played amongst themselves, which is a good thing.
On the horizon, though, is likely an 84-game season, though that is not entirely a lock.
"Our fans are telling us they want change," said Calgary Flames governor Harley Hotchkiss of the change for next season. "They want to see Crosby, Ovechkin and Kovalchuk, just like everyone wanted to see Wayne Gretzky."
Under this matrix, Crosby et al would play every team, but would visit each city every second year, rather than the current three-year cycle.
Next week, for instance, he visits Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver for the first time in his career -- in his third season. Last year, the great schedule debate caught momentum when the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin swept through western Canada, causing quite the stir.
"This format," said Hotchkiss, "is a happy medium."
That's because several of the Canadians teams (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton along with the Rangers and Dallas) were keen on every team seeing the other twice in a season, home and away. But there were too many teams that covet the divisional games and don't want the extra travel and expense, so they carried the day.
The schedule change carried with a 26-4 vote, with the dissenters believed to be Anaheim, New Jersey, Boston and the New York Islanders.
"We travel enough already," said Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke prior to the meeting. "Our fans didn't want to lose any division games."
What is interesting, though, is that NHLPA director Paul Kelly met with the governors and amongst the things he talked about was the players willingness and preference to play two games a year with the other conference, home-and-home, and to play an 84-game schedule as long as pre-season games are reduced from nine to five. It is a proposal the Detroit Red Wings have floated, but was never formally discussed. Yet.
Unfortunately, that information from the players didn't arrive in time to potentially be implemented next season, but commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to point out that the matrix that will be in place can easily be expanded by those two games, if the owners are willing. You can bet that discussion will take place next time the governors gather.
"It's never been formally proposed to us by the union," said Bettman, "and it's something we will talk about...the basic structure is in place, adding two extra games will fit into this matrix nicely."
The bottom line for now is that while the divisional games are important to a lot of teams, the league also has to make sure it gets maximum exposure for its top young players. The old/new system that will be in place next season doesn't get all of that, but it is better than what was in existence. And there is no fixed time frame for this matrix, unlike the existing system, which was on a three-year cycle. So, again, moving to 84 games if there is an appetite is easy.
"This was an attempt to be responsive to the fans,” Bettman said. “And we did it notwithstanding that this is likely to be the third year in a row with record attendance and the fact that divisional games are better attended than any other."
The burning question now, of course, is when will the carping begin anew about the "new" schedule and when will the 84-game season become a reality?
In other news:
- Kelly spoke with the governors for roughly 35 minutes and received applause and handshakes when he was done. Essentially, he spoke about what he thought was good and what could be done better in the current system. He said he was still evaluating the CBA, still talking to players and "it's really too early at this point to talk about a reopen at the end of next season. We're going to wait until the end of this season and see where we are.
"But I also told them, consistent with my overall view and attitude, that if there are issues and concerns that I think we ought to initiate a healthy dialogue at the end of this season and work to resolve those things through discussion and compromise and not kind of let those issues fester and put them off until the last minute when it’s too late.
"But at this point, absolutely no decisions have been made relative to the re-opening of the CBA.’’
The other music to the board's ears was a pronouncement that he doesn't believe a "cold-war approach" works, but he was quick to add that as a lawyer for 27 years, he wasn't afraid to fight the good fight, adding that "any labour interruption in this sport would be devastating...the public, particularly in the United States, would turn away in disgust."
Kelly also mentioned that the players were willing to make modifications to improve goal scoring, including reducing the size of goalie equipment as long as there was no increased risk of injury to the goaltenders.
- As expected, the sale of the Nashville Predators to a group of local investors was approved
- The governors were told that the salary cap, at $50.3 US million this season, will likely go up again for next season because revenues are expected to increase.
- On the agenda for Day 2 of the meetings is a thorough discussion on the state of the game, everything from hits to the head, hits from behind, suspensions and the drop in goal scoring for a second straight season from and average of 6.2 per game two years ago, to 5.8 last year to 5.4 this season. The league was averaging 5.1 goals per game per lockout.
There are two significant reasons for the drop off. One, players have adjusted to the new interpretation of the rules and power plays are down. Two, coaches have figured out ways to deal with the absence of the red-line and a new form of the trap, known as the wedge, is rampant.
What recommendations or thoughts emerge from the meetings remains to be seen, but the good news is the players have made it known to Kelly during his tour of the teams that they are overwhelmingly opposed to increasing the size of the nets. And that is good news.
Imagine the impact globally if the NHL increased the size of the nets. Imagine the impact on the record book. The key is to find ways to increase scoring chances and let the rest play itself out. Reduce the size of goalie equipment, but leave the nets alone.
- Beleaguered Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson has obviously been the topic of conversation in the hallways, but he has received a lot of support at these meetings from rival club executives and general managers, most alternately amazed and appalled by what has happened in the past week, with the comments from within the organization and the speculation from outside.
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About the Author
Scott Morrison, the recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fameís 2006 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, has been covering hockey for 25 years. The Toronto native began his career at the Toronto Sun in 1979. After spending more than 11 years as a hockey writer and columnist at the paper, Morrison became Sports Editor in 1991 and led the section to being named one of North America's top-ten sports sections in 1999 - the first sports section in Canada to receive the AP Sports Editors North American Award. Scott, a former two-term president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, joined Rogers Sportsnet in 2001 as Managing Editor, Hockey, and is currently both a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada and a columnist for CBC.ca.
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