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Will The NHL Regular Season Become Irrelevant?

from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail,

What’s not being considered in this rush to restart is how pandemic hockey affects the NHL next season and beyond. Because once people get a look at this – and assuming it doesn’t collapse midway through – they aren’t going to want to go back. Once the NHL does the same, it won’t want to either, but in a different way.

The most pernicious structural problem facing professional team sports is the size. Success encouraged leagues to embrace a philosophy of constant expansion. More teams, more games, more playoffs, more money.

We had already reached the point where supply was beginning to outstrip demand. Revenues were rising, but audiences were shrinking. We’d reached a crest.

People had started to notice that the NHL is a sports version of The Young and the Restless. You could tune it out for weeks or months and when you rounded back again, not much had changed. Victor was still getting ready to marry Nikki (again).

This is the paradox of the regular season – it takes up most of the scheduling real estate and, in the end, doesn’t matter all that much.


Filed in: NHL Talk, | KK Hockey | Permalink



People had started to notice that the NHL is a sports version of The Young and the Restless. You could tune it out for weeks or months and when you rounded back again, not much had changed. Victor was still getting ready to marry Nikki (again).

Who are these people and why do we care what they think?

I’m more interested in the opinions of people who actually care about hockey.

Posted by BaromirBragr on 05/23/20 at 10:47 AM ET


It is the same as regular years, when the playoffs start the regular season becomes irrelevant.  I don’t know what people are thinking? You play 82 games for your pay, awards, and placements in the playoffs and drafting. The season was cut off, what happened happened, pass out the awards, set the draft and a modified playoff format.  Hockey fans will watch, they are hungry.  Tournaments are more of an interest than a long drawn out second season, I think it will be great!

Posted by jhpcarrier97 on 05/23/20 at 03:07 PM ET

d ca's avatar

I don’t think they have any other option this year. You took all the teams that were mathematically alive still for a normal playoff year and created a tournament with them trying to not penalize the top teams by exposing them to an equal grind as the bottom-feeders. That’s how you made the regular season matter. It’s not perfect—-but it can’t be right now.

Least anyone forget the NHL & NBC & CBC want content to fill-in the missing Olympic coverage. Huge opportunity and huge revenue saving for both partners.

I am not worried about an expanded field next year for one obvious reason:

I don’t think the NHL will have the time to fit it into the schedule next year given their stance of wanting to play 82 games (and what the weasel wants the weasel gets). Even if they reduce the number of games: I think they would scale back the 24 teams—that number just came from the math of teams being still alive for a normal playoffs.

I think the NHL is going to have to ‘steal’ ideas from all sports leagues like adjusting season start/end times, reducing the number of games (I think they plan for 82 and are forced to adjust mid-season), regionalizing play to reduce travel by throwing away conferences, going virtual for press conferences/media scrums/pre- & post- analysts in the same studio.

I am worried about the start-date being permanently set in mid-to-late Dec though. To me you have to start the season at least by the week of (American) Thanksgiving. Let the NFL own Thanksgiving but schedule the day-before night games and day-after (Black Friday) matinees (Boston vs Detroit in Boston for those doing the schedule) to kick off the season.

I think the schedulers need to set many 4 games in a row series against traditional rivalries—even if those rivals are in a different conference (example Chicago,Nashville vs Detroit)—and division opponents: this has the added bonus that if a team has a COVID-19 outbreak the situation can be contained to perhaps 2-3 teams. It also makes the games more competitive. The more times you play an opponent, the more aggressive the game becomes.

In fact, I think you have to steal the idea from MLB. Throw out conferences and schedule regionalization games next year. Division 1) Habs, Sens, Bruins, NYR, NYI, NJD. Division 2) Philly, PItt, Wash, Carolina, Fla, and Tampa. Div 3) Buffalo, Toronto, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago, and Nash. Div 4) Jets, Wild, Blues, Stars, Avs, and Ari. Div 5) LA, Ducks, Vegas, Sharks, Van, Edm, Flames.

Which brings me to my next point—the schedule will need time for make-up games. Yes, the NHL will need the equivalent of a rain-delayed makeup (due to possible quarantine)—-the alternative of shutting down the whole league vs isolating and testing a couple of teams is too large of an impact on revenue to not have this contingency built in to the schedule.

And if college football doesn’t happen…own that day of the week. Work with you TV networks and have a day of at least back-to-back games nationally televised. Own Saturday night form 7pm to Sunday 2am. And this is key go back to regionalization—-don’t become HNIC today (aka Leafs national TV network with other games relegated to pay cable )...become HNIC of yesteryear where each local station got the closest game to them.

The NHL is going to have to depend on expanding TV viewing to pull in more revenue in the short-term as the stands are predicted to seat on 2,500-4,000 people with proper social distancing (and being able to fill and empty the stadiums in a timely fashion)—that is when municipalities allow them to be occupied by fans. Why not gain traction by going HNIC style to America on NBC? And if you really want to grow the game—-let the local affiliates pick up the feed for the next year. The NBCSports app will be just fine losing a couple of viewers to the local stations for one year.

Honestly, it’s going to be a mess….no matter how well it is planned for something will happen that causes the schedulers to change mid-course.

Posted by d ca on 05/23/20 at 04:07 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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