Beginning last season as a result of the 2012 NHL Lockout, the league replaced it’s 6 divisions with 4 and introduced, among other things, a new regular season schedule format that has each team play every other team at least once both at home and away. This is good for parity and gives fans of teams in other markets a chance to see their favourite team play. It can also lead to some unfortunate circumstances.
Located on the US west coast, the 3 teams from California (Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose) are quite far from the rest of the league, with just 5 teams (Arizona, Vancouver, Colorado, Calgary, and Dallas) within 2,000 kilometres of their closest Californian rival. This makes scheduling road games tricky for other teams, and often the most convenient solution is to play all 3 of the teams in one trip. Of the 27 non-Californian teams in the league, 19 of them played each of the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks in a single road trip last year, totaling 50 points in their 57 games played and a record of 22-29-6. Just 7 of those 19 teams were able to escape with a .500 record or better.
There are a couple of issues facing teams making this road trip, one being the level of competition that they are playing. The Ducks, Sharks, and Kings were all Stanley Cup contenders last year and finished the regular season ranked in the top 3 spots in the Pacific Division. All 3 teams had great home records with the Kings’ being the worst of the bunch, averaging 1.46 points per game at the Staples Center.
The other issue is that teams are often playing with little rest between games. Last year 12 of the 19 teams to make the trip played in back-to-back games, with 9 of those teams playing all 3 Californian teams in just 4 days. The home teams were often able to take advantage of their tired opponents, going 18-3-3 in the back-to-back games, compared to 17-13-3 in the remaining games. Although the competition is stiff, it seems the visiting teams are only really at a major disadvantage when they don’t have a day off to rest between games. Their tiredness can at least partially be attributed to travel, most of the teams have flights longer than 4 hours to reach the coast. If the problem continues down the road it would seem an easy way to level the playing field would be to allow the visiting a rest day between games, though the current schedules are already busy and with non-game days occupied by practice and travel those extra days can be hard to come by.
The schedule for the upcoming season is no easier for teams entering the golden state – 20 teams will face all 3 Californian teams in one shot, including 16 teams having to play back-to-back games and 13 teams playing 3 times in 4 days.
It will be interesting to see if last year’s trend continues this year, as it would result in the visiting teams earning only 17 of a possible 64 points in the back-to-back games and would give 3 great teams some welcome extra points in what will be another difficult regular season in the western conference.
(Cover Photo via Waymaking.com)