As the NHL lockout has dragged on I have been asked more and more frequently "How are you doing without the NHL?" It’s a question that I’ve been asked by family, friends, co-workers, and even casual acquaintances. By my estimates I think I’ve been asked that question or some variation of it by 75% of all the people I’ve ever met. That’s a conservative estimate too. When it first started happening I was actually a little insulted by the question and the insinuation that the NHL is my entire life but I quickly realized that given the evidence, it’s a very reasonable question to ask because the NHL and the Oilers are a very big part of my life; probably more so than I realized or am happy to admit.
I’m the guy who pays to watch a last place hockey team. Since becoming a season ticket holder in 2006 I’ve gone to, on average, around 35 games a year. That means I have seen the Oilers play over 200 games since I last attended a playoff game. And I keep going back for more even though the Oilers have been a borderline unwatchable team for large parts of the last six seasons. But that’s just the home games and really only part of the story. Add in road games, games that I choose to re-watch for some bizarre reason, other NHL games that don’t include the Oilers, and even my work on this site and my constant tweeting, and you’ll start to get an idea of how much of my life has been consumed by hockey.
Sadly, there’s more…
When my wife and I were planning our wedding in Mexico I picked dates for the trip that I did in order to miss as few Oilers games as possible. And then, after everything had been booked, I altered the trip (and my wedding date) so that I would be home to see the Oilers retire Mark Messier’s jersey. This little story is probably a big part of why my inlaws look at the Oilers schedule – home and away – before inviting us over for dinner.
Stepping back and taking an objective look at the evidence I'm not in the least bit surprised that people are so quick to ask about my life without the NHL. What is a little surprising though is that I’m not missing the NHL at all. Like Derek, I’ve found other things to fill up my free time while billionaires and millionaires argue over how to best divide my money. I’ve watched the Oil Kings play a bunch of games and attended a couple of Golden Bears games as well. I've been pretty productive at work and I've even managed to get couple of minor things done around my apartment which is a significant accomplishment because as an engineer I’m a lot better at supervision than actually doing things.
None of this is to say that I (and my money) won’t be returning when the owners and players finally reach an agreement on a new CBA. I will absolutely be back. In fact I’ve already paid in full for my season tickets so for the upcoming season I actually have no choice. Will I be the same fan I once was? Will I dedicate the same amount of time to the Oilers and the NHL that I used to? That I don’t know. Only time will tell I guess. What I do know is that over the last few days as things have looked rather positive on the negotiation front, that I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about the post lockout NHL which probably bodes well for the league’s bottom line in the long run.
Personally, I haven’t been too interested in dissecting every rumour about what might or might not be included in the next CBA. I figure there will be enough time to dissect the agreement once one is reached without speculating now. Instead its discussion regarding what the schedule might look like that has interested me the most. I’ve seen a couple of ideas tossed out there – a 58 game schedule that would include a home and home with every team and a 56 game schedule that would include intra-conference play only. Both make sense are, I think at least, worth a closer look. Before getting into the specifics of either of those options the first question that should be asked is: Is there still time for a season that long?
Under the old CBA the season was 185 days long and the teams of course played 82 games or one game every 2.25 days. If we assume a similar rate then that would result in a 53 games season if play started January 1 and ended April 30. For argument sake I chose January 1 because unless a deal is done this weekend I don’t see how the NHL could be back before Christmas and I doubt they’d want to come back on say Boxing Day so New Year’s Day seemed like a reasonable choice. The day itself doesn't really matter though, I think it’s pretty clear that a schedule in the 55 game range can still be done but a deal needs to be reached in the very near future in order for it to happen.
Looking at the specifics of the two deals it's fair to say that the intra-conference option would likely be preferred by both the owner and players. This option will have far less travel which both parties are going to be in favour of. Even more so if extra games have to be crammed into the next few months to make it work. This option also has history on its side as this was the type of schedule used during the shortened 1995 season. If you were wondering teams played a game every 2.17 days that season which is about what the NHL will need to do this time around as well.
If it's what the owners and the players want then it's probably what we'll get right? Maybe. Probably. But after jerking the fans around for the second time in eight years perhaps those two parties might, for once, give what the fans want some thought.
I can't speak for all fans but I know this this fan would rather see a completely balanced schedule in which every team visits every other NHL city once. This isn't because I don't want to watch the Wild more than once this season (well it isn't just that) but because since the last lockout visits from Eastern Conference teams have been few and far between. For example, the Penguins came to Edmonton just three times during the last CBA. In a league with 30 teams and an 82 game season that makes even less sense than signing a 36 year-old, injury prone goalie to a four-year contract. I've experienced both, trust me I know what I'm talking about.
When the NHL announced their proposal for realignment last year being able to see every NHL team in your building was one of the bigger selling points and something that I seem to recall a number of fans liking. That realignment proposal and the schedule that went with it went the way of the dodo because the owners chose not to consult the players while putting it together but why not resurrect the schedule at least starting now? Throughout the lockout both the owners and the players have told us that they feel bad for the fans. Personally I haven't seen anything that makes me think they feel even the slightest bit bad for us, this though would be a great opportunity for both to put their money where their mouth is. The "Thank You Fans" on the ice was nice one time but I'd like something more this time around.