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Compressing a season for a meaningless tournament hurts the NHL playoffs

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There are 365 days in a year, why use just 180 of them for hockey?

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 Final - Game Two - Canada v Europe Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The decision for the NHL to not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea has been met with doomsday prognostications, right along side those in defense of Gary Bettman’s decision to withhold players from his league in the games. The reasoning given is really just sugarcoating for the larger issue the NHL won’t talk about. They have their own world competition, and participation in the Olympics doesn’t meet the NHL’s profit margins.

Take that for what you will. Their league, their choice. I’d love to see the NHL participate, but I understand the reasons, those subtle reasons, alongside what is actually being said by NHL brass. It would be nice if they could, at the very least, be honest about it, but I'm likely expecting too much.

My beef doesn’t lie with the Olympics, or the World Cup of Hockey at all. Play the games, all of them. More, higher-level competition hockey the better, right? What really knocks the chain off my bike, is what playing in these games has done to the NHL regular season. We’re currently seeing an NHL schedule more compressed than we have quite possibly ever seen aside from the lockout season in 2012-13. In the 2016-17 season, or any full regular season for that matter until expansion takes place next season, the NHL has 1230 scheduled regular season games. The 2016-17 season kicked off on October 12th, 2016 and finishes up on April 9th, 2017. That is 180 days from start to finish. Do the math, that averages out to 6.833 games per day over the course of this season.

Games per day by season

Season Start Date End Date Games Days Games/Day
Season Start Date End Date Games Days Games/Day
2016-17 10/12/16 04/09/17 1230 180 6.833
2015-16 10/10/15 04/10/16 1230 184 6.685
2014-15 10/08/14 04/11/15 1230 186 6.613
2013-14* 10/01/13 04/13/14 1230 195 6.307
2012-13** 01/19/13 04/28/13 720 100 7.2
2011-12 10/06/11 04/07/12 1230 185 6.649
2010-11 10/07/10 04/10/11 1230 186 6.613
2009-10* 10/01/09 04/11/10 1230 193 6.373
2008-09 10/04/08 04/12/09 1230 191 6.44
2007-08 09/29/07 04/06/08 1230 191 6.44
*Olympic year **Lockout season

In looking through the past 10 seasons, 2 Olympic Winter Games have occurred, while 2016-17 was the beginning of the NHL taking over the World Cup of Hockey, and, by itself, was the single biggest catalyst towards compressing an NHL season into as tight of a corner as possible. Going back 10 seasons, you could see the NHL was stretching seasons out over 190+ days, and with no real reason like an Olympic year getting in the way. The last time the Olympics got in the way of the NHL, they stretched the season out over an incredible 195 days, 15 extra days than we are seeing this year.

It’s not the WCH’s fault. It’s the NHL schedule makers. There needs to be some kind of resolution here so we are not running teams ragged because we’re trying to jam a new tradition down the throats of hockey fans across North America. How could the NHL be so accommodating for the Olympics by extending the season out over a longer time frame, but in their first season with the WCH, they smash the season down so dense it hasn’t given players time to rest, or coaches time to run a practice, or fans a chance to even blink for that matter?

If the NHL insists on running this World Cup of Hockey bit every 4-years, and alternating that bi-annually with an All-Star series between North America and Europe, they need to, at the very least, be as accommodating as they have been for the Olympics. Perhaps it’s time to examine contracting the season by a number of games itself if they're going to insist on not playing hockey well into the summer months.

Right now, the NHL is gearing up for the playoffs, and one of my fears going in is that the players involved are going to be so worn down we won't be treated to the best hockey during the the NHL’s biggest showcase - The Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s a time when the casual fans cast their gaze towards a game they might not watch that closely over the course of a long 5 months season. It’s a time when the NHL has expectations of great hockey, dramatic comebacks, overtime winners, heartbreaking defeats, and the glory of the Stanley Cup.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking the whole thing. After all, these guys are professionals. They’re well conditioned for this stuff, well compensated, and should be able to handle the strain of all of these games compressed into a short tine frame and all that comes with big lights of the second season. They are humans though. They do get tired and their game suffers as a result. Regardless of how the team I root for does, I still, at the bare minimum, want to see good, competitive hockey.

In a perfect world, the NHL would have this all figured into the equation already. Either by extending the season, or considering reducing the number of games in seasons with one of their events taking place. Of course, chopping off a few games would never be an option for the NHL. That is, at its very basic element, lost revenue, and the League just can’t have that. This leaves the option of extending the number of days for the NHL to complete a season.

There needs to be a standard set in this regard. While the games per day doesn’t look like it changes that much, over the course of a season those extra days can be the difference in a player healing from an injury, or getting the kind of rest that might prevent that injury in the first place. This can be accomplished by either scheduling the WCH earlier than it was, or pushing the season later into April than it already is. Either way, we get the best hockey at the best time of year without running players ragged. Somewhere around 190 days for a season seems like a good target with which to start..

Of course, they could just scrap the WCH too, but lets not get crazy now.