Monday, 14 February 2011

Why 82?

I was talking hockey at school today when I was asked a question that I really couldn't answer with any definitive reasoning. It's not that I didn't know the answer, but it was tough to answer simply because the answer always pointed back to the almighty dollar. On one hand, money pays the bills for hockey's owners and players, but, on the other hands, you never want to sound like hockey is being greedy. But when asked why hockey insists on an 82-game schedule, there aren't a lot of good reasons to give outside of "owners need to make enough money to pay the bills". And it's especially difficult to justify 82 games when some teams consistently lose money season after season.

Let's be honest: there are a lot of people on the planet that think that the NHL season is just too long. I might be one of them, in fact, but I do like the intrigue and storylines that some teams experience over the course of an 82-game schedule. From injuries to hot streaks, there are a number of ups and downs that a team can face.

However, the follow-up question made me think a little deeper today: wouldn't it be better for the game as a whole if each game in the season meant a little more? After all, if professional sports' model is the NFL and they only play 16 games, how important is each game to an NFL team? If you lose three of four games in a row, your season is essentially over unless you can turn things around in a hurry.

In hockey, there has to be a happy medium. 82 games, to most people, is more hockey than they may watch in their lifetime. There are, admittedly, games where teams don't play as hard as they should simply because the rigors of the season have caught up to them through injuries and fatigue. As a result, it looks like teams are "going through the motions" in a lacklustre effort.

If we go back to the 1995 season where only 48 games were played, this was an interesting situation because of how short the season actually was. Detroit went 33-11-4 that season to start their tradition of annual Stanley Cup runs in the 1990s. Does anyone remember who finished as the second-best NHL team that year? If you said "Quebec Nordiques", congratulations to you because not many people would have jumped on that answer.

So why 82? Why not 48? Or 60? Who decided on an 82-game schedule as be-all, end-all for NHL scheduling?

Well, for starters, there are six games - three at home and three on the road - against the other teams in its division for a total of 24 games. Teams then play the other non-divisional teams in their conference a total of four times - two at home and two on the road - for 40 more games. Throw in fifteen more games against the other conference's teams, and we're up to 79 games. Three additional games have three of those opposite conference teams playing against your team once more in the opposite arena as the first game, and you get a total of 82 games.

Let's be honest: that's a lot of games, and there are probably a lot of throw-away games in there where teams simply go through the motions in another meaningless game on the schedule. Let's grab the scissors and start cutting this scheduling idea up.

Let's lose one home and road date against divisional opponents. If familiarity breeds contempt, it would be a different story, but the Battles of Alberta, Ontario, and New York have seen very little tenacity or fire in recent memory. If we shave off those two games, we're already down to 16 games from 24. That works for me, but let's keep going.

Let's shave one game from the other conference teams. If you play twice at home in Season A, you'll play once at home in Season B against the non-divisional conference team. That reduces the non-divisional conference games from 40 to 30. Again, that's a manageable number.

Finally, we'll keep the non-conference games. That's 15 guaranteed games, and it allows every team to play every other team once. Toss in four games against select opponents from the opposite conference, and that's 19 more games. Overall, we have a total of 65 games, 17 games less than what we currently have. That translates into nearly one month less of games, meaning that the season could end in early March rather than early April. I'm starting to like this idea.

With 65 games, there are still a few of those games that don't really matter in the standings. Except now they matter a little more than when you were playing 82 games. A loss now counts in the standings a little. Those lost points in the shootout now have a bigger impact at the end of the season. A season-series sweep in a divisional battle could mean the difference between a playoff spot and watching from the outside when the season ends. Laying an egg against a non-playoff team could cost you dearly once the season plays out.

Of course, a shorter schedule should mean a lower cost for season tickets. It should also mean lower salary costs for owners, but there's almost no way that the NHLPA will agree to this. Cutting salaries will never fly, but let's assume that the NHLPA agrees to shorten the schedule and reduce salaries for its members. I think this could actually work in theory.

So I ask you, readers: would you prefer a shorter NHL schedule to increase the drama, or do you like the 82-game schedule as we have it? Do you see faults? Can you improve on this idea, or is the status quo the best we have?

Comments are certainly appreciated and encouraged on this one!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Captain Canuck said...

shorter schedule has a domino effect, besides what you already touched on, including the BIG one, smaller salaries.
less games = less $$$ on TV deal
less home games = less jobs for stadium workers
less games = lower revenue for local area watering holes (here in Calgary, that's a huge concern)

less games = less exposure. And since we are still trying to grow the game in the sunbelt, we need all the exposure we can get.

Teebz said...

Wouldn't the opposite also be true? If you wanted more people to care, shouldn't the games mean something?

I agree that the game needs exposure in non-traditional markets, but if there was more to win and lose in each game, would fans not care more about how their teams did?

Dan said...

I really liked the compressed schedule from last year, due to the Olympics. Pretty much a game every other night or every third night.

I'd say keep the 82 games, but shave about 2 weeks off the season. Get the playoffs starting in the first couple days of April.

TMK said...

I'd say, the Status Quo isn't the best we have, by a long shot, but there's just no way they'll shorten the season. Remeber when there was only 21 teams and they stilled played 80 games a season? Now, there's 9 more teams and only 2 more games? I'd definitely vote for your scheme and think it's a great that should've brokered during the last work stoppage.

Great post!


Anonymous said...

The season could definitely be shorter, perhaps increasing the "meaning" of each game with respect to the season as a whole. I'm fine with it as is, though. Sometimes it's nice to watch a game like a sitcom, which enables multitasking (i.e. doing homework, reading, etc.). Good read. Check out my hockey blog at

Unknown said...

Instead of shortening the schedule, I'd like to see the NHL try to go to more of a "series" format in their scheduling to cut down on travel costs. Play 2 3 game series against divisional oppenents, one at home and one away.... 2 2 game series against other conference opponents... and do inter-conference play between series. That should cut costs significantly, without significantly impacting the competition.