12 June 2011

Schedule Formulae with a balanced NHL schedule...

I wanted to address something Commissioner Bettman mentioned along with the news of Atlanta's impending relocation to Winnipeg last season. He mentioned the possibility of going to a "more balanced schedule."

Most people are taking this to mean every team will appear in every building at least once a year, or a the very least an expansion of interconference play from the current number of 18 games per team pear season. Let’s assume it is the case that the NHL will go to 30 interconference games per team per season (15 opponents times 2 games, one home one away). This means there will be only 52 games (down from 64) to be spread among conference opponents. Surprisingly, this means there are a fairly finite number of schedule formulae the NHL could use depending on how the league chooses to realign (how many diviisons, conferences, etc...), which Bettman believes will happen following next season.

Depending on travel priorities, the schedule will look something like one of the five possibilities that I analyze below. While, I have my preferences for the how the league should be realigned and the schedule it should follow, I think the bigger point is regardless of which of these possibilities the schedule looks like, realignment is actually going to matter less under a more balanced schedule.

Under the current alignment, when we argue which teams belong in the same division or conference, we were arguing over which teams appear three times versus twice versus three times every five years* in a given building. With a more balanced schedule and guaranteeing every team appears at least once it means we would be arguing about fractions of those numbers.

(*Yes, I know the Canadian teams have an exception that means they play Canadian interconference opponents home-and-home every year, so 3 times every 5 years isn't correct other than as an overall league average)

I think it's pretty safe to assume the NHL will stick with two conferences of 15 teams each, moving Winnipeg to the West in favor of moving Detroit or Columbus to the East, let's assume for the sake of argument that remains true. The question then becomes how many divisions will be in each conference.

WARNING: Lots of numbers and nerding out below.

As you scroll the possibilites, keep in mind...

Breakdowns written as [Number of Opponents] * [Number of Games per opponent].

Categories of Games:

Div - Games against opponents in the same division
RC - Games against opponents in the same conference, but not same division
IC - Interconference games, or games against opponents of the opposite conference

Sample Schedule:

The Sample home schedule shows how many teams would appear how frequently in each building. The first option will have the Sample Home Schedule listed as:

4*3 (All Div), 5*2, (All RC), 20*1 (5 RC, 15 IC).

Which means, four opponents from the division would appear three times, five teams would appear twice from the rest of the conference, and then 20 teams would appear once, 5 from the rest of the conference and 15 interconference opponents).

If there is an imbalance, assume that it could be handled on a rotating basis. (There’s an argument for doing this by seeding, but that’s not crucial to overall point of this post)

Lastly assume all options include two games home-and-home against 15 interconference opponents, the only difference between the options is how the Div and RC games are divided.

Three Division Options
Conference has 3 Divisions of 5 Teams.

Option A - Division Focused

24 Div (4*6)
28 RC (8*3, 2*2)

Sample Home Schedule:
4*3 (All Div), 4*2, (All RC), 22*1 (5 RC, 15 IC).

Comment:
These are two possible schedules that are close enough to be under the same option. Both possibilities try to preserve the six games against each division opponent, however only 4 or 5 opponents from the rest of the conference will appear twice (down from 10) as the RC schedule is reduced by 25%.

Option B - Conference Focused

16 Div (4*4)
36 RC (6*4, 4*3)

Sample Home Schedule:
12*2 (4 Div, 6 RC), 17*1 (4 RC, 15 IC)

Comment:
This is the current formula the NBA uses. This makes it almost unimportant in which division a team is, as the most a team will appear in any building is twice, and it would be 12 out of 14 conference opponents that would appear twice. (Detroit or Columbus in the Southeast division wouldn't be so ridiculous travel-wise, just name-wise)

Two Division Options
Conference has 2 Divisions, one of 7 teams and one of 8 teams.

Option A - Really Division Focused
Division of 7 Division of 8

36 Div (6*6) 38 (3*6, 4*5)
16 RC (8*2) 14 (7*2)

Sample Home Schedules:
Division of 7: 6*3 (Div), 23*1 (All RC and IC)
Division of 8: 5*3 (Div), 2*2 (Div), 22*1 (All RC and IC)

This formula would preserve a large balance in division games, and mean the minimum number of games between teams outside of division matchups. (Might not be so great in the Eastern Conference if "rival" teams get forced into different divisions).

Option B - Division Focused
Division of 7 Division of 8

28 Div (4*5, 2*4) 31 Div (3*5, 4*4)
24 RC (8*3) 21 RC (7*3)

Sample Home Schedules:
Division of 7: 2*3 (2 Div), 6*2 (2 Div, 4 RC), 22*1 (RC and IC)
Division of 8: 1 or 2*3 (Div), 3 or 4*2 (Div or RC), 24*1 (RC and IC)

This formula would still favor division games, while not paring games against other conference opponents to the minimum.

**NOTE: If divisions have an unequal number of teams, it is impossible to create a formula similar to Option B in the three division format in which the games between opponents of different divisions after guaranteeing the maximum games between opponents of the same division. The only way such a formula comes close to working is if some teams in the larger division give up a game against a division opponent to ensure there are enough opponents in the smaller division to go around, but that seems to defeat the purpose of using a divisional alignment in the first place.

No Division Alignment
Conference has no divisions, 15 teams in one group

52 (10*4, 4*3)

Sample Home Schedule:
12*2 (12 Conference opponents), 17*1 (2 Conference Opponents, 15 IC)

Note the schedule is the same as option B in the 3 division format. This formula is the simplest and means the only relevant alignment is where line is between two conferences.

Which formula to use is a matter of how much emphasis the NHL wants to keep on division play. But adding interconference games does necessarily reduce games within the conference and within the division. How are playoff races going to be decided? That’s a very important question regarding where the balance in the schedule should lie. What do you think?

Coming Soon

I will update my last realignment plan now that the move to Winnipeg has been made official.

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