PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL is changing its schedule for next season, taking a page out of its recent past, but the league is not going as far as their players would prefer.
The NHL Board of Governors decided late Thursday to revert to the pre-lockout format – six games against each divisional opponent, four against each of the remaining 10 conference foes, and at least one game against each team in the opposite conference with three wild-card games.
Will being able to see Sidney Crosby in person every other season instead of every three seasons appease fans, who complained about the current system that takes three seasons for every team to cycle through each city?
"The sense of the board was we heard the concerns from some of the fans and this was an attempt to be responsive to our fans," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Appeasing the players might be a different story.
New players' association director Paul Kelly said his group wants to see more of a change. He said the players would even OK an increase from the current 82 regular-season games to 84 if it meant playing every team at least twice with the caveat that the maximum preseason games were reduced from nine to five.
"Quite frankly, they would like to see those teams twice – home and home – as opposed to just once," Kelly said of interconference play. "The players are tired of seeing the same guys week after week, they believe fans in their buildings want to see star players from other teams and they themselves would like to visit other cities."
Bettman said there was only one proposal on the table, and the governors approved the change by an overwhelming vote of 26-4, according to a league source. The commissioner said he’d take the players’ thoughts under advisement.
"It’s never been formally proposed to us by the union," Bettman said of the increase in regular-season games to accommodate more interconference play. "It’s something we will talk about.
"Now that I know that’s something the players are interested in, that might be a refinement of the schedule going forward that is now in place."
Former NHL player Luc Robitaille, now the president of business operations for the Los Angeles Kings, welcomes the change.
"As a player, I kind of liked playing against the other conference (more)," Robitaille said. "And I know in L.A. our teams love to see the teams from the East. The bottom line is, sure, everyone wants to see (Alexander) Ovechkin and Crosby, but from year to year that changes."
The new format means teams will play two fewer games against each divisional foe, the same number against their remaining 10 conference opponents and increase to almost double against the opposite conference teams.
The league will use discretion in matching the three wild-card games for each team, but Bettman admitted for the six Canadian franchises it means Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver will face Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto twice each – home and away.
Bettman said the rest of the wild-card matchups will pit natural, long-standing rivals combined with a system of trying to grant teams’ requests as best as possible.
In addition to the schedule change, the board approved the sale of the Predators to a group headed by Nashville businessman David Freeman. The approval was forwarded pending the closing of the proposed transaction, which could come as early as Monday.
Bettman also said he expects the ceiling on the NHL salary cap to rise for a fourth straight season next year. He was reluctant to state exactly how high the new cap ceiling would go, which stands at $50.3 million this season.
"Revenues are going to go up so as a result so will the cap," Bettman said.
Lastly, Kelly addressed the board for approximately 45 minutes. It’s his job to lead the beleaguered players’ association, which has been through turmoil over the past couple of years.
Kelly said he has met with 11 teams and emphasized keeping labor peace is a top priority.
"I think he was cordially received by the governors and the sense in the room is we all look forward to working with him," Bettman said.