NOTE: My recent lack of blog posts is due to a tornado hitting my house and me having to help plan Bread for the World’s National Gathering in DC. Sorry!
June always brings with it annual shock among Americans that the hockey season is still going on. And this year, the only reason most of them know that the Stanley Cup Finals just ended is because of looting and rioting in Vancouver. Although there was plenty of drama in this year’s Cup Finals, it was running concurrently with an epic NBA Finals, further siphoning attention away from a championship event that has experienced declining viewership in recent years. I think one key to reviving the Stanley Cup’s popularity in the States is shortening the season so that the Finals take place during a time when Americans feel it is reasonable to still be watching hockey.
Toward that end, I am going to emulate my friend Brandon Hundt, who often writes “sports reform” posts. Here is how I believe the NHL can increase its relevance with one simple step:
Shorten the season to 66 games
This might not seem like a big deal since it’s only 16 fewer games, but here’s my calculation: The 2010-11 regular season was 185 days long, during which each team played 82 games. That translates into one game every 2.25 days. Cutting 16 games from the regular season would thus shorten the season by 36 days. That would mean the regular season would end in early March, and the Stanley Cup Finals would take place in late April and early May — still not wintry hockey weather, but much better than mid-June. In terms of what a 66 game season would look like, each team could have 4 games each against the other teams in the division (16 games), and 2 against each team outside their division (50 games).
This is not only a matter of timing, but also of making the sport safer. Hockey is far too brutal a sport for the NHL season to drag on so long — this season it started before, and ended after the NBA, which is much less physically taxing. Shorter regular seasons mean fewer injuries, which in turn means more interesting playoffs: Sidney Crosby’s absence due to a late-season injury effectively eliminated the Penguins before the playoffs started and deprived TV cameras of the sport’s poster boy. Anze Kopitar’s injury in the dying weeks of the regular season also meant that the Kings entered the playoffs as a different team than the one that qualified for the playoffs.
Team owners would probably oppose this plan, but the NFL demonstrates that fewer games can actually create more demand and thus more revenue. Players would probably be all for this idea. But what about fans…