Friday, 17 July 2015

Travel Woes?

An NHL player has a lot to worry about on a day-to-day basis when it comes to being game-ready. Game-day meals and transportation to and from the arena always factor in, especially in when in foreign cities, but one needs to be aware that a lot of a hockey player's life is spent sleeping and traveling. Sleeping rejuvenates the body while traveling usually allows for additional rest but at odd hours. That being said, traveling presents an obvious problem when it comes to playing fresh versus playing tired.

In recent cases, the Winnipeg Jets traveled an insane amount when they played in the Southeast Division, and there were always questions as to whether this amount of travel was having a negative impact on the standings. Teams that travel more are home less where the comforts of home are certainly appreciated, so there's always a question of how much travel is too much travel.

On The Forecheck's Dirk Hoag has been calculating these totals for a few years now, and he's done it again this season. It should be noted that the Western Conference teams, as a rule, always travel more than most Eastern Conference teams which makes it harder to understand why the Western Conference teams continue to win Stanley Cups when there's a ton of travel involved. In any case, there are a couple of Eastern Conference teams who log a ton of miles as well, so we'll take a look at this starting with the chart below.

As you can see, the San Jose Sharks travel the most, and the Pacific Division represents seven of the top-fifteen positions on the chart. You can see why the AHL is concerned about traveling for their new Pacific Division, especially since there are no teams in the Mountain Time Zone. While I'm not suggesting that an NHL Pacific Division team won't win the Stanley Cup, it does get a little more difficult to be fresh when the playoffs start after traveling that much during the season.

The Metropolitan Division travels the least which should benefit the Rangers, Islanders, and Capitals in terms of being playoff teams. While the other five teams may not have a realistic shot at the Stanley Cup this season, having the shortest travel schedule means that only one team from the Metropolitan Division has a shot at the Stanley Cup thanks to the divisional playoffs. The Rangers have played in the Eastern Conference Final in the last two years - can they make it a third year in a row?

I'm not sure if the NHL doesn't like the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets, but those two teams have 19 back-to-back games this season. We've seen good teams post winning records on the second-half of back-to-back games, so the NHL might be testing the Blue Jackets after their improvements this off-season. As for Buffalo, there's always next season.

The Maple Leafs and Penguins rank second and third, respectively, on the back-to-back game list with 18 and 17. Looks like Phil Kessel doesn't get a break in the back-to-back department with his trade. Honestly, you'd think that Eastern Conference teams would have it easier with less back-to-backs, but there are several Western Conference cities where back-to-backs are easier to pull off.

One such place is Los Angeles and Anaheim. According to the data, "[t]he Los Angeles Kings will play a league-high 16 games 'rested' next season, benefitted by the fact that the Ducks skate just down the road in Anaheim" as per TSN. "Rested", in this case, means a night where the opposing team plays but the team in question is off. Back-to-backs appear to also be the case for Edmonton and Calgary games where they play as the home team, and Minnesota and Winnipeg are close enough to make that a back-to-back adventure for some squads as well. Just as a note, Nashville plays just four games while "rested". A reason for that? Read on.

Detroit suffers the most this season being a "tired" team 14 times. For one of the older teams in the league, that's not what you want to hear. However, the Red Wings are slowly transitioning to a younger team, so there may be more opportunities for the kids to get in and play amongst the veterans. We'll have to see how head coach Jeff Blashill handles this hardship.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, the defending Eastern Conference champions, will travel nearly 2500 more miles this season and will play three more back-to-back series than they did in 2014-15. For one of the younger teams in the NHL, this may not pose much of a problem, but tired players can lead to an increased number of injuries. We'll have to see if the Lightning can duplicate this past season.

Nashville, who won the Central Division last season but fizzled in the playoffs, will travel nearly 5000 less miles this season. They will play one additional back-to-back series, but you have to think that one less cross-country flight will be good for the Predators as whole. While they showed some teeth against the Blackhawks in the playoffs, you'd think a fresher Predators team might make some noise this season.

The Flames enjoyed one of the best travel schedules in the league last season, but their young legs will be tested with an increase of almost 10,000 miles this season. We'll see how that wear-and-tear goes for them this season. On the flip side, the Arizona Coyotes cut almost 10,000 miles off their travel this season. You wonder if the NHL is throwing them a bone in trying to make them profitable this season. I'm not suggesting that the NHL specifically schedules teams for less miles after playing a particularly grueling schedule the season before, but making the Coyotes a strong team financially makes for a stronger NHL overall.

Clearly, there are a lot of quirks with the NHL schedules, but it's still 82 games for all teams. Chicago, for what it's worth, logged the 14th-most miles last season while playing the 11th-most back-to-back games at 15. Add in the fact that they were the visiting team in three of four playoff series that saw them go through Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay, and you have to wonder if the team that travels best is the team that wins the most.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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