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Less is More: What the NHL would gain by shortening its season

Winter is long. For us Canadian folks, it’s been a hard 5 months. When sub-zero temperatures (on a Celsius scale) dominates the weather reports for the better part of a year, it’s little wonder that we are enamored with hockey; it’s practically the only sport you can play outside with other people, and gives some truth to the Canadian Olympic Twitter hashtag #wearewinter.

With a regular season commencing on or near the beginning of the winter, hordes of fans don’t need to go far to search for the coolest game on ice; however, with longer days, warmer weather, and the promise of summer, any reminder of winter seems obscene. Enter hockey: with a regular schedule including a whopping 82 games, as well as a four-round, potential 7 games per round playoffs, sandwiched between the best players taking a break to participate in the Olympics, this season can very well last into mid June, early July. Even as a die-hard fanatic of the sport, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing: think of it this way; you love bacon (because who doesn’t?). You love the smell of it, the sizzling sound of it cooking, the salty taste, and the crunchy goodness of a perfectly cooked strip. Imagine cooking and eating it daily for at least two meals, 8 months of the year. Heart disease aside, you would be pretty sick of it, wouldn’t you? Throw in a bacon extravaganza for Christmas, and come March, you’re begging for a different style of food.

My point with this is that the NHL should re-think an 82-game schedule. I love hockey just as much as any Canadian; however, a season that extends well into spring and sometimes into early summer is just excessive. Remember last season? It was frustrating, due to the lockout, but the shortened, 48-game season was exhilarating; the playoff races were intense, and every team had to bring their very best every game. With players used to 82-game seasons going into the playoffs in mid-season shape, the playoffs were the most exciting they’ve been in a while, with five game 7s, and only two sweeps (2011-12 only had four game 7s, three of which came in the first round).

As a hockey fan, firstly, 48 games is much too brief a season; 64, however, seems to be around the magic number. It’s halfway between 48 and 82 (somewhat, it would be 65, but even numbers seem to please people, see: all European soccer competitions), and players can only play a maximum of 92 games in a season (quick math: 64 regular season, up to 7 games per playoff round, times 4 rounds equals 28; 64 plus 28 equals 92) as opposed to a maximum of 110. Sure, you lose a potential 18 games, but that’s just the guaranteed tickets from the season reduction (82 minus 64 is 18, let conspiracy number theorists run amok!).

This can be beneficial for players, as the physical wear and tear of a lengthy, grueling season will certainly be diminished. Players that constantly under-perform would be done away with quicker, increasing the demand for skilled players to come from youth systems, making the game faster, younger, and more exciting. Added on top of that, the Stanley Cup would be awarded anywhere between March and April, just in time for hockey to make way for baseball in the American markets, allowing markets like St. Louis to cheer for the Blues and the Cardinals, and never having to choose between one or the other.

Economically speaking, the decreased supply of games could lead to ticket sales skyrocketing to accommodate for increased demand, but financially dire hockey teams would benefit from people coming from elsewhere to try to see their favorite teams play other teams (who wouldn’t go to Florida to see the Panthers get creamed by the Boston Bruins, and get some sun in the long winter?), as well as decreasing operational costs. Even assuming ticket prices stay the same, their overhead costs would be lower, so at the very least, their losses would be diminished. Furthermore, the players, at a well-rested level, should play at their very best, increasing their value, making GM investments in their careers worthwhile.

While this is not an issue that is likely to be discussed at any of the upcoming Board of Directors meetings, it is always fun to speculate on what the state of the game would be like should there be a radical change implemented, right? So, please, for the love of God and hockey, let winter be over soon. Enjoy the playoff race, and I’ll see you next week!

Pedro Rengel

Pedro Rengel

Originally hailing from the tropical paradise of Venezuela, I moved to Canada at age 11 for the sole reason of falling in love with hockey as a self-proclaimed Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Now a Canadian citizen, my mad love affair with hockey represents a statistical contribution as opposed to an anomaly. Being able to write this well despite having Spanish as a first language is enough of an anomaly (I'm occasionally biased).
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