Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Schedule makers to be front and centre at all star break

The theory on scheduling is, that by the end of the all star week festivities the NHL will announce a return to a more equitable scheduling process. One that at least will see each team, play in each market, at least once per season.

It will bring an end to the current foolishness of having some of the league's top talents exiled to the east or west divisions, with only infrequent forays into the other division every few years. That has been one of the biggest complaints by the fans this season, the fact that Vancouver for instance, may not see Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa or Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future, a ludicrous situation that punishes the fan for being a loyal season ticket holder.

If, as the rumours suggest the league will return to its pre lockout scheduling system, (a rumour that may require Lou Lamoriello to be locked in his hotel room until after the vote) then at least the fans will see some of these hot talents that are but rumours to many NHL cities.

Ken Campbell of the Hockey News had the inside stuff on the issues of these meetings, including those plans to at least spread the wealth of talent out across the entire NHL map next season.

NHL's schedule issue to be solved Thursday
The Hockey News

January 23, 2007

DALLAS — The NHL will have its much-maligned schedule dealt with once and for all when the board of governors meets Tuesday and the betting is the league will likely go back to the pre-lockout format that saw all 30 teams face each other at least once a season.

And as far as Colorado Avalanche superstar Joe Sakic is concerned, that's the way it should be.

"Every player I've talked to . . . they're sick of it," Sakic said. "For us, it will be more travel, so you get on a plane and it's an extra hour. What's the big deal?"

While there's no guarantee the schedule will change, one source close to the board of governors said Sunday there is an appetite to alter a format that sees teams play their division rivals eight times a season and teams in the other conference just once every three years.

"I think the ones who want change will get a vote their way," the source said. "What will probably happen is that they'll say, 'Hey, this matrix isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than what we have now.' "

Chances are things will go back to the format used pre-lockout, where each teams plays its divisional opponents six times instead of eight, then plays four games against each of the teams in the other divisions in their conference. That would leave 18 games against teams in the other conference. Teams would play against each team in the other conference once, leaving three games for home-and-home series against traditional rivals.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has not taken a stand on the issue so far and has basically allowed teams to make their cases, but one source said it might be time for the league to step in. The feeling is that if there is an appetite for change, Bettman will facilitate it.

But Bettman remains unconvinced there will be the two-thirds majority required to make a change.

"What has happened is we've given this a very thorough examination and nobody as yet has suggested something that everybody likes better, which tells you that there's a great deal of merit in the current schedule," Bettman said. "There are some people . . . not a lot, not a majority, not even close to a majority who are critical of (the current format). When we put this to bed, everyone will be comfortable, one way or another."

One thing is for sure, said deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the league will put this matter to bed once and for all and will move on with its schedule. It is thought that the impetus for change exists with a number of western teams whose fans are not afforded the opportunity to see young eastern stars such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

The teams in the eastern United States are thought to be in favour of the current schedule with New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who holds an enormous amount of sway over the board, leading the charge.

The league is also expected to discuss the Pittsburgh Penguins situation, but Bettman said Sunday he's content at the moment to allow the process in Pittsburgh to play itself to a conclusion. Daly said the NHL would likely need to know within a month about the Penguins fate.

Contrary to reports, both Bettman and Daly said there will be no discussion at the meeting about future expansion, making nets bigger or increasing the number of teams in the playoffs to 20. There has been talk that the league might allow 10 teams per conference into the post-season, with the seven, eight, nine and 10 seeds playing a mini-tournament in the first round.

"I don't think that has a lot of momentum right now," Bettman said. "If you increase the number of teams making the playoffs by four — and I'm not saying we're considering it — while the ninth and 10th teams get a shot that they didn't have, the seventh and eighth teams are now forced to participate in a wild card without being guaranteed a chance to advance.

And all of a sudden you're thinking, 'Wait a minute, if I'm seventh or eighth, I want a chance to be like Edmonton and have a shot of going the whole way without adding an extra round."

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