Cheap Seats: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
The NHL has long been plagued by bad decisions. For instance, the glow puck, OLN, the Reebok Edge Jerseys. However, as the season winds down, many fans will finally notice another really bad decision, the lack of divisional games to close out the regular season.
Last year, the regular season concluded with a handful of games against divisional opponents. The Penguins faced each Atlantic Division team at least twice, the Flyers and Rangers three times each. In fact, 10 of the final 11 games were against Atlantic Division teams. This genius idea prompted me to post a May Minute on YouTube as seen here:
Obviously the argument can be made that there are eight fewer divisional games this season than last. That doesn’t necessarily evade the subject as there are still 82 games in the season. This season, the Penguins face each divisional opponent once in the final eleven games. These games aren’t even reserved for the final four games of the season, but rather scattered out among those final eleven, including a game against the Flyers scheduled for Sunday, March 22. This game is listed as TBA, reserved for NBC’s flex-scheduling.
The NHL hypes the “stretch drive” as being more intense than the first half of the season. Last year, they went one step further by having these pivotal games that helped determine divisional champions. Why then wouldn’t they make sure to reserve the extra two games against each divisional opponent for the final two weeks of the season?
Every time the NHL stumbles upon a great idea, they seem to muddle it up. When the lockout ended, the NHL brass wanted more exposure and sought a new cable partner to allow the NHL to be their main programming. As a result, the NHL ended up with OLN. Granted the product has improved since OLN changed to VS, the first year with OLN was painful to watch.
The NHL then chose to change every team’s jerseys to introduce the new Reebok Edge jersey. Many jerseys look the same with different colors and logos, and they have reverted back to the original material found in the old jerseys, abandoning the new system. Understandably that was Reebok’s problem, but the NHL endorsed it to maximize revenues from jersey sales.
Last year’s divisional focus to end the season was a tremendous idea, even if it ended up being the result of a scheduling quirk. Gary Bettman should address this issue and see to it that the final two weeks of the regular season is always geared towards divisional rivalry games. If the NHL wants to sell their product prior to the Stanley Cup playoffs, these rivalry games are their best option.
Even for teams that are playing the spoiler role, the interest in those markets is amplified because of a rivalry game. For teams in contention the divisional games provide a sneak preview into the playoffs as these teams vie for the top of the division. This leads to playoff hockey starting almost two weeks earlier than when the playoffs actually start.
While the phrase is true that games are just as important in October as they are in March, who will remember the Penguins’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils on October 11, as opposed to the home game against New Jersey on April 1? Now consider if the home game on April fool’s day was connected to a home and home series against the Devils. Certainly the impact of that game would mean much more for each team, the Penguins looking to make the playoffs, the Devils looking to clinch a divisional title.
Once again, two steps forward, one step back. The sport of hockey is deeply entrenched in tradition, it’s about time the NHL learns from recent successes and develops a new tradition.
Don’t forget to catch the Penguins Buzzcast tonight at 8:00 pm. You can click the link or listen on the player below. See next time here in the Cheap Seats: Hockey Talk from the Nose Bleeds!