08 March 2013

Zone starts, as in time zone starts under the new NHL schedule formula.

Yesterday white smoke emerged from the conclave that is the NHL Players' Association, signaling that pending the expected approval of the Board of Governors, the new NHL alignment plan and schedule formula appears to be a go.  The Minnesota Wild’s schedule will change dramatically.

The new formula calls for...

29 games against their new Midwest division opponents.
                *4 or 5 games against CHI, COL, DAL, NSH, STL, WPG

21 against the new Pacific division
                *3 games against each of ANA, CGY, EDM, LA, PHX, SJ, VAN

32 games against the new Eastern Conference
*2 games (one home and one away) against each team
Central Division: BOS, BUF, DET, FLA, MTL, OTW, TBY, TOR
Atlantic Division: CAR, CLB, NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, PIT, WSH

(NOTE: There is a quirk due to the odd number of teams in the division playing an odd number of division games that means once every 7 years the Wild will lose one Midwest division game in favor of one extra Pacific division game.  For the sake of simplicity, I am ignoring this quirk in this post as six out of every seven Wild seasons would look like this on average.)

What each half of the schedule looks like...

(more below the jump)

So let's split the opponent frequencies in half to figure out what home and away schedules look like.   (Comparisons to the last full season under the six division format in parenthesis)

3 Games against…
3 Teams from the new Midwest division
(Was 4 teams from the Northwest division)

2 Games against…
3 Teams from the new Midwest division
3 or 4 teams from the new Pacific Division
(Was 10 teams from the Pacific and Central divisions)

1 Game against…
3 or 4 teams from the new Pacific Division
16 teams from the new Eastern Conference
(Was 9 of the 15 teams from the Eastern Conference)

Comparing old, new, and new that could have been...

To establish terminology for the remainder of the post for the sake of comparison.

Six division format: The format and schedule formula the NHL used in the last full season (11-12)
Four division format: The format and schedule formula that the PA approved yesterday
Four conference format: This version of the four conference proposal the PA did not approve. 

The main difference between the shelved four conference plan and the approved four division plan is that Minnesota would've played against each team in the new Pacific division twice (simple home-and-home) instead of three times.  This would've increased the number of games against each new Midwest opponent to six games instead of four or five.

So what time to away games start now?:

Well now that we know the frequency of road games at all opponents, we can categorize them by time zone and start counting, and compare them 

(NOTE: All numbers in Italics are averages over a hypothetically infinite rotation which is why in some cases there are decimal places shown.  The actual numbers in a given series will vary from year-to-year as the host team in odd games for three and five game season series are rotated.  Also a reminder the hosts in the one game series in the six division format for interconference play were also rotated, with the exception of the six Canadian teams other than Winnipeg also playing home and home.  All of this is factored in.)

Pacific Time
Mountain Time
Central Time
Eastern Time
(Everybody Else)
Six Division
Four Division
Four Conf

+Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings. I am counting them as a Mountain Time team because they observe Mountain Time during most of hockey season.

So comparing the four division plan to its six division predecessor Minnesota reduces Pacific and Mountain Time starts by about 1/3, and increased Central and Eastern time games by about the same on average.

One last lament for the four conference plan that should have been...

It appears the reason for shelving the four conference plan was because the PA feels better about having an 8 in 14 chance of making the playoffs instead of a 4 in 7 chance for some reason.

Of course I find that ridiculous.   The four conference plan would've been even better as far as even further limiting late road starts in the regular season and playoffs.  Once it was clear the NHL was digging in on Detroit and Columbus staying East, it was also clear there was not going to be a 15th team coming West.  The purpose of putting 15 teams in each conference would've been to solve the 7% playoff chance imbalance that I don’t care about in the slightest.  Without that, there was no real point.

At least as far as the West is concerned, I don’t think any of the 14 teams involved would mind reducing the cross division games for extra games in their own division, and keeping the divisions in their playoffs.  More on that next.

Playoffs? Who said anything about this overused bit of press conference awesomeness...

With the playoff format allowing for two wild card spots in each conference instead of a straight top four in each division, a team that wins a division may have an opponent from a further distance in the first round than the second and third placed teams.

A Midwest division team may still have a first round opponent in LA or Vancouver instead of being guaranteed having to travel no further west than Denver.  Likewise, a Pacific division team may have to head all the way to Chicago or Nashville instead of at worst going as far east as Calgary. (Or Edmonton, I confess I don't know which is further east and I really dislike both teams so I don't care enough to look it up.)  I prioritize easier travel for the top seed over perceived fairness to a 5th place team all day.

Well let's look at the home half of the schedule now...

Again the numbers and opponent frequency are the same as the away schedule, on average of course because of odd game rotation.  Most of the teams that usually appear twice a year at the X under the six division format will still do so whether they bey new Pacific or new Midwest divisions opponents.  Three teams, instead of four teams, will appear three times, and at least those three teams will be from a more regional grouping than the former Northwest division.  What is neat is that every Eastern Conference team now appears once, instead of each eastern conference team appearing about three times every four years. (Or in the case of non-Winnipeg canadian eastern conference teams, once every two years)

Are fans in the State of Hockey happy?...

On the whole, this is a step in the right direction.  But I don't this this will be as drastic of a schedule changer as many fans were hoping.  I still hope the four conference plan gets another chance down the line.  Maybe  if the league gets to 32 teams when the re-evaluation happens in two seasons.  (And maybe the Red Wings get kicked back to the Midwest when this happens to be a rival to Chicago.)

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