San Jose Sharks Looking For A Balanced Schedule at the NHL Board of Governers Meeting

Heading into this week's NHL Board of Governors meeting this week at Pebble Beach, the San Jose Sharks have two main priorities they will be advocating. The first is keeping the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference, and the second is a balanced schedule that will ensure the Sharks play each Eastern Conference team twice during the regular season.

Right now the Sharks play each team within their division six times, Western Conference opponents four times, and against the Eastern Conference at least once (with three opponents receiving the home and home treatment). This type of schedule emphasizes rivalries within the West and the Pacific Division, while largely ignoring the Eastern Conference.

Frankly, I prefer it that way. This comes with a caveat depending upon divisional alignment (more on that after the jump), but if the NHL sticks with a six division format an unbalanced schedule against the East is preferable.

One of the best things about the way the current schedule is set up is that the Sharks get a heavy dose of potential playoff opponents throughout the course of the season. This builds familiarity and competitive animosity, leading to a much more exciting postseason where the teams have some prior history to fall back upon. Furthermore, I like how the playoff race is directly tied into how you do against the teams you are competing with-- finishing things off in regulation is much more important, and each game has implications that extend beyond just your record.

It should be stated that from a business standpoint the balanced schedule makes more sense. With the majority of the major media outlets located on the East Coast, along with the fact that four out of the top five highest valued franchises are in the Eastern Conference*, gaining more exposure in those markets could open up more revenue streams for the franchise to capitalize on. Furthermore, seeing the likes of Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos twice a year is an intriguing opportunity for fans of hockey across North America to watch stars from the east play twice a year.

*If Detroit moves East the five most valuable franchises would be in the Eastern Conference.

Skepticism from myself aside, it appears that the balanced schedule looks to be gaining steam heading into today's meeting. If it occurs, divisional alignment (which is also on the agenda) will affect how many games the Sharks would play against divisional and Conference opponents throughout the year.


Six NHL Division Alignment (Current)


vs. East
vs. Pacific
vs. West
Total
Option A
30 (2x)
32 (8x)
20 (2.0x)
82
Option B
30 (2x)
28 (7x)
24 (2.4x)
82
Option C
30 (2x)
24 (6x)
28 (2.8x)
82
Option D
30 (2x)
20 (5x)
32 (3.2x)
82
Option E
30 (2x)
16 (4x)
36 (3.6x)
82

In other words, a "balanced" schedule with the Eastern Conference would lead to an imbalance against the rest of the Western Conference under the current alignment. This is unless the NHL returns to divisional opponents playing eight games against one another, which doesn't seem likely considering they scrapped that format in 2008-2009.

The second option would be to reduce each Conference from six divisions to four, with each division having either seven or eight teams. Most estimates have speculated that the Sharks would play in an eight team division with Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Colorado, with the Stars moving to the Central Division along with Winnipeg.

In this scenarios the Sharks would have seven opponents in their division (the "Pacific") and seven opponents in the other NHL division (the "Central"). Here is how those matchups would break down with a balanced schedule:


Four NHL Division Alignment (Proposed)


vs. East
vs. "Pacific"
vs. "Central"
Total
Option A
30 (2x)
42 (6x)
10 (1.4x)
82
Option B
30 (2x) 35 (5x)
17 (2.4x)
82
Option C
30 (2x) 28 (4x)
24 (3.4x)
82
Option D
30 (2x) 38 (5.4x)
14 (2.0x)
82

As we can see here, there would be an imbalance of games against Western Conference opponents excluding Option D. This option (which I have bolded) is the one that has received the most attention and looks to be the proposal NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be presenting at the Board of Governors meeting.

That proposal would have the Sharks play a home and home against every team outside of the Pacific, with the rest of their games being played against Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Colorado. San Jose would play each of these teams at least five times, with three opponents receiving a nice round number meeting of six games.

Furthermore, there are all types of playoff implications that come with the four division alignment-- the first two rounds of the playoffs would be played within the division, meaning the top four teams in each division would make the postseason and not the top eight that currently do. I'm intrigued by that idea in principle as it emphasizes divisional play (making those games even more intense than they already are), but that means some teams would play an unequal amount of home and away games against their Division opponents.

It may be a bit antiquated, but I would really prefer an even number in that context considering how important divisional standings would become. Still, the pros to this system outweigh the cons-- the first two rounds of the playoffs would be excellent rivalry based games, generate significant interest from the casual viewer, and keep start times in or around the same time zone. That's a big win for television networks and advertisers, as well as fans and players.

What I really like about Option D (the proposal Bettman will be presenting this week) is that after the first two playoff rounds the winners advance out of their division and are re-seeded. This means that there is a potential for a San Jose-Pittsburgh semifinal or a San Jose-Chicago Stanley Cup. Ten years down the line that might not be as special (as San Jose would only play Chicago twice per regular season under this format, "cooling" the rivalry), but it's still a neat wrinkle that would make the League's playoff system even more exciting than it already is.

In summation-- I do not like the balanced schedule if the NHL sticks with the six division alignment, but I do like the balanced schedule if the NHL goes to four divisions

The Board of Governors is expected to discuss the proposal during their two-day meeting beginning today. It was initially reported that they would come to an agreement by the end of the meetings, but now it seems as if the deadline could be extended if a consensus is not reached.

The League requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass the proposal on realignment.

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