The NHL needs to restructure its regular season schedule if it wants to have more appeal late in the season. Currently, most teams play their division opponents four times each, with three games against teams in the opposing division in the same conference. Each team also plays every team from the opposite conference twice: once on the road and once at home.
The league changed its divisions and season structure in 2013 and wanted to make sure each NHL team plays in every arena. That way, fans in every city have the chance to see all teams, whereas before, Eastern teams would only play a team from the West once a year, with the host rotating each year.
It’s a great structure for fans, especially if you support a team outside of your hometown. A San Jose Sharks fan in Montreal gets the opportunity to see their team play every season. Although good for ticket sales, this format is not good for the standings.
The NHL uses a division-based playoff system, with the top-three teams in each division making the playoffs—two extra teams from each conference qualify through wild card spots. So teams are in a tight battle with their division rivals all season long, but only get to play them four times.
This season, the Montreal Canadiens are in a close playoff race with their two main rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. They already played the Bruins four times, with their last game on Jan. 14. It’s an injustice that these two teams won’t meet again this season. The Canadiens didn’t play the Leafs from opening night on Oct. 3 until last Saturday—that’s a four-month break.
It just doesn’t make sense that fans see these great rivalries only two more times than a game against a team from the opposite conference. In reality, interconference games are useless for the standings, and there should be more intradivision games.
When Seattle joins the NHL in 2021 and evens out the divisions to eight teams each, the league should adapt a new schedule. In an 82-game season, it would make sense to play your division six times each (42 games total), opposing division three times each (24 games) and once against opposite-conference teams (16 games).
It’s also much easier to market Montreal-Boston six times a season for TV ratings than Montreal-Arizona for two games.