As of right now, the NHL lockout has not officially ended. Turning the framework the owners and players (NHLPA) agreed to into a legal collective bargaining agreement (CBA) both sides can ratify takes time. So do details like the new San Jose Sharks schedule being leaked in reports like this excerpt from Comcast Sportsnet (CSN) Bay Area Tuesday, January 8:
A source has told CSNCalifornia.com that the Sharks have been told to prepare for a home opener on Jan. 24. ...(They) will also vacate the building for the SAP Open for the final time from Feb. 11-17. ...(T)he full schedule isn’t expected to be released until the end of the week. It will also certainly feature games within the Western Conference only.
Assuming there is a condensed schedule, San Jose will likely begin the season on the road for as many as three games then have to go on at least a four-game road trip about two weeks later. This could be difficult for a team that will be without injured blue-liners Justin Braun, Jason Demers and Brent Burns for at least the start of the season, according to CSN.
But that is not the most disturbing thing to come out about the new schedule. San Jose Sharks Examiner has been speculating on just what formula would result in a 48-game season. According to SBNation columnist Matt Brigidi, the matrix for the new season is three games each against the Central and Northwest Divisions, four against two Pacific Division foes and five against the other two.
As John McEnroe would say, "You cannot be serious!"
Imagine that like last season, the Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are fighting for the division title in the final days of the season. San Jose has to play its extra game against the Stanley Cup champions in Southern California, giving L.A. the advantage of an extra home game in the head-to-head. Phoenix gets to host the last-place Anaheim Ducks.
A loss in a skills competition (shootout) in an extra road game could cost the Sharks the one point they need so they fall behind the Kings, while Phoenix gets a regulation/overtime win thanks to weaker competition that gives them the tiebreak over L.A.
With a massively improved Colorado Avalanche squad looking to break into the playoff picture, the imbalanced schedule could literally cost the Sharks not only a division title, but a playoff berth. Dropping the extra two games simply makes more sense, and should reduce the wear and tear of a condensed schedule.
Most reports have the season starting January 19 and ending in mid-April. Going with the logical end date of Sunday, April 14, that means 48 games in 86 days—a brutal pace that will end with many injuries. If the season was 46 games and the schedule extended one week, it becomes 46 games in 93 days—a more reasonable pace of just under a game per two days.
It is worse for the Winnipeg Jets, who the NHL is going to leave in the Southeast Division furthest from their home ice. With travel reduced for the rest of the league by staying within their conference, Winnipeg team may travel more than the entire Atlantic Division.
I know the league and NHLPA needed months to work out a new CBA, and they want to move forward. But how hard is it to simply put the Jets in the Central and the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Southeast for this season? Even better, put the Jets in the Northwest, the Minnesota Wild in the Central and Columbus in the Southeast.
Even after the lockout is over, basic common sense remains a casualty.