Monday, December 04, 2006

Board of Governors to look at schedules and playoff guidelines

As the thirty NHL Board of governors gather in the hockey hotbed of Florida today, two items will dominate the agenda. In between rounds of golf and martinis by the pool, they’ll discuss the growing list of complaints about the unbalanced schedule in place this year.

With some teams receiving visits from the NHL’s new hot guns about as often as a sighting of Hailey’s comet, there is a move afoot to tweak the schedule so as to guarantee at least one visit a year from each team.

The new schedule parameters were designed to create rivalries within the divisions and conferences but sometimes too much of a good thing breeds contempt for the product. Every once and a while a fan wants to see more of a Sydney Crosby or an Alexander Ovechkin and less of the Minnesota Wild or Phoenix Coyotes.

The other issue is some change made to the playoff system. Whether it’s as dramatic as emulating the March Madness format of the NCAA basketball playoffs to something less dramatic than byes for the best and adding two more teams to the chase, the Governors will look at a variety of presentations.

There have been a number of suggestions put forward about how to solve the problem, one has been put together by Hockey Night in Canada’s Harry Neale, who has drawn up a project that would see all teams play each other at least once in each city before the teams get down to the nasty bit of inter divisional battles that make hockey in April so exciting.

His playoff suggestions are far more dramatic, giving the top two teams in a division a bye in the first round, adding two teams per conference to the playoff hunt and starting the playoffs with a best of three series to determine who would move on to meet the teams that received the byes. It’s a major departure from what we’ve become used to and one has to wonder if the NHL’s Board is really interested in such a massive makeover of the playoff system.

Another option is to follow the guidelines of the March Madness of college basketball, where teams are bracketed before the playoffs begin and will know the road they need to take all the way through to the finals. It would be an approach that would certainly be a godsend to those putting together the office pool.

Other business at hand today, an introduction to the new owner of the Penguins, a discussion on where the TV contracts are going these days, some number crunching about income expectations and a review of where the league is going with its new media ideas. And Ted Saskin will address the board, the second year in a row that the player’s union rep has made a presentation to the NHL's power brokers.

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