The American Hockey League recently announced that it will be shortening its schedule from 80 games a year to 76 games. This is being done to “provide a safer environment for our players through increased rest and recovery time, and also to provide our fans with an even higher caliber of play as a result of reduced player fatigue,” according to David Andrews, AHL President and CEO.
The league will also eliminate instances where teams play four games in five nights and reduce the first round of the playoffs to a best-of-five series.
Should the NHL think about implementing a similar plan?
In regards to the playoffs, no. You won’t find very many people who say that they would like fewer playoff games. The number of games played makes the Stanley Cup “the hardest trophy to win in sports” and adds to its value. However, you will find many people who think the season lasts too long and that there are too many “throw away games” during the middle months.
It’s hard to get excited when your team is playing a non-rival in a mid-February game, after all.
The issue is that the NHL is a very attendance-driven league. Fewer games means lower attendance which means less money. However, that shouldn’t stop the league from at least seriously considering a change, especially if it can secure a new, more lucrative television deal for next season. A new deal would make up for some of the money lost at the gate.
It’s not just a case of player safety either. It’s also a case of fan interest. Again, how exciting is it to play a team you’re know little about during the dregs of the season? Shortening the schedule would not only reduce the number of these games, but it would also make the season itself shorter.
After all, training camp begins in September, the season usually lasts until mid-June and the free agency period runs through most of July. That means that August is really the only month where little of significance happens in hockey. This isn’t just exhausting for the players, but also for the fans.
There’s a tremendous amount of excitement for hockey at the beginning of the season and even more excitement once the playoffs start, but everything in between seems kind of meaningless. The NHL has tried to boost interest in January with the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game, but it’s tough to stay hooked, even as a very dedicated fan. Casual fans (who the NHL is trying to attract) must find it difficult to care as the season drags on.
NBC doesn’t even show games until January, reinforcing the fact that about half of the NHL season is meaningless.
In all honesty, that’s somewhat true. This year you could have missed out on the first several months of the year and only tuned in during the last few weeks. You still would have seen that most teams were competing for playoff spots and that only a few franchises were actually out of the mix. Why watch the whole year when you can get everything you need in March and April?
Obviously eliminating four to 10 games from the schedule won’t reduce the length of the season by a great deal, but it would make every game mean just a little bit more. If you only have 72 games to catch up to your competition instead of 82, losing a couple could be dire. Fans tune in and get excited when something is at stake and having playoff races start earlier would only be good for the league. Shortening the schedule would be a great way to do that.
Or it could just cut a couple teams.