TSN Hockey Insider (and friend of the blog) Bob McKenzie chatted with Gino Reda about the schedule format of the National Hockey League’s first return-to-play round, and the details are exciting on the surface as they are confusing below it.
“The plan is to play three games per day, both in Edmonton and Toronto, and the timetable template, if you will, in terms of local times, is to schedule those games for 12:00 Noon, 4:00 PM, and 8:00 PM,” said McKenzie. “Now keep in mind the two hour time difference between Edmonton and Toronto – it means, basically, there’s going to be six games a day spread over a 15 hour window, if not longer”
Such a format would look like this:
At first, this sounds incredible. Whether or not you’re 100% comfortable with the league coming back, one can’t help but be curious about what happens if the puck does, indeed, drop – and this looks really fun. As McKenzie, points out, this is 15+ hours of consistent hockey to get us back underway – that’s amazing, right?
Sort of. There is a catch, though – a couple of them, in fact. The first, and perhaps most obvious one, comes in the art of sudden death. Should these games be tied after regulation, playoff rules suggest that teams keep going until the next goal is scored – and as we’ve seen year after year, that can take a while. It would only take a game to get into the late stages of the second overtime to push back the clock on the game that follows.
Thankfully, the NHL can mostly breathe easy in that respect; the league’s four-year drought without a triple overtime game is the longest it has seen since the early 1990s, with the game of such a length ending after 51 additional minutes courtesy of Mike Fisher in May 2016. Since then, only about 21% of all playoff games have gone to overtime (54 of 258), and 76% (43) of those finished in the first overtime. The average length of overtime has been around 12:50, and in only one of those 13 double overtime games did it get into the final five minutes.
In other words, we’re talking about something that doesn’t have a significant chance of happening particularly often in the opening round, in which a maximum of 40 play-in games will occur, along with 12 round-robin games.
Strategically, the round-robin games will use regular season overtime (5 minutes 3-on-3 followed by a shootout), and will be the middle (4:00PM local) games in each city’s schedule. This means that time overage is only a concern for the twenty noon play-in games, leaving a reasonable expectation that this will only cause a couple of collar tugs and might cause one, maybe two actual push-backs of the schedule. Or maybe none or maybe a bunch, if the hockey gods say otherwise. At it’s core, though, the risk is negligible.
If we have to push a round-robin game back because every series went to five, and a couple play-in games went to triple or quadruple overtime – I’m sure that’s a sacrifice most of us will be willing to make.
I do wonder a little about some other issues that the cramped schedule holds, though. From what we’re made to understand, these will all be played in the same arena – Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Rogers Place in Edmonton – and the combination of summer heat and heavy elite hockey use seems like a recipe for disaster – particularly when Toronto is looking a little heat-wavy right now. This wouldn’t be so bad had the hubs borrowed multi-rink facilities in their cities, but amenities and broadcast features likely take a priority there.
Speaking of facilities – I wonder how that plays out with six teams needing to use the rink on any given day. Scotiabank Arena has often had double-game days (World Juniors, World Cup, Marlies/Leafs doubleheaders, etc), but I can’t imagine the setup they’d have for six teams – particularly if Toronto doesn’t want to give up their room to anyone.
The same goes for Edmonton, who hasn’t been tapped on the shoulder as much for this sort of thing, but likely built with doubleheaders in mind – I wonder where their capacity is to hold six besides themselves. Teams not only have to switch around, but in an extremely sanitary fashion given the circumstances, and that seems like it’ll be very difficult without some clever dressing room trickery that keeps everyone safe but also game-ready at an elite level.
Either way, it’s exciting to get some clarity, and an expectation of not leaving my desk in August – so long as this all happens.