The Foley of Late-Season, Cross-Conference Play in the NHL
Such a major contest at the venerable Ice Palace known as Amalie Arena on Saturday night. Late-season play only brings more rival bitterness and tense contests between the sworn enemy likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s an annual rite for the National Hockey League to hold contests like that one. Two Conferences are in their last throes of the regular season play, with clubs jockeying for playoff position or respectability (or prime draft slots), and fans get fed healthy doses of games baked fresh in Could-Give-A-Shit-ville.
That’s not a shot at Winnipeg, That’s a shot at the NHL schedule. When results matter the most, cross-conference play, and regular-season contests between Easterm and Western Conference teams should be over.
It’s not rocket science, it’s marketing. Right now is when the Eastern Conference would draw more media and fan attention with Eastern play, likewise for the Western Conference clubs. Gameplay and results now factor in broadly as opportunity is so limited. Add to it how results carry more direct weight — division rivals! – and attendance desire/viewweship (and sis dollar signs) tick up.
This isn’t saying cross-conference play should be ceased in the NHL in full. Nope. What’s needed is for East-vs-West play to be over by or around March 1. Five months of time to play the opposite should work fine.
I realize a schedule is a complex beast as all sorts of events and other sports factor in to venue availability, and those involved in the task of compiling the regular season schedule want to shake things up from time to time (not the same thing year after year)… But cross-conference play is not the gateway to the playoffs. It isn’t an interest-grabbing mechanism most of the time, and there is no solid chance fans are witnessing a forthcoming playoff series; A Stanley Cup Finals to-be. Surely the Lightning game held that weight?? Or was it more likely the New Jersey Devils playing Seattle on Saturday that is a prebiew of things to be? Hmmm… :-p
In simplicity, games matter too much at the end of the regular season to have the contests be against opponents who have no position/status in the conference. Opponents matter in general, but it’s a poor marketing of the league to play games against teams who aren’t more direct opponents in the standings.