Every season, Dirk Hoag watches his team, the Nashville Predators, enjoy a relative advantage as a member of the Central Division in the Western Conference.
They might not have the frequent flier miles of teams on the West Coast, but they also log far fewer miles on the road than many of their conference rivals.
Last season, the Predators traveled 40,958 miles; according to Hoag's must-read breakdown of the 2009-10 schedule on his blog On The Forecheck, the Preds' mileage dips down to 39,749 in the just-released regular-season schedule for the NHL.
According to the chart, the Predators have the lowest travel mileage of any Western Conference team next season, including their four division mates. (The Detroit Red Wings, by comparison, are at 42,477; no doubt influenced by a trip to Stockholm.)
The Calgary Flames, meanwhile, lead the NHL with 55,331 miles on the road next season, up 2,390 miles from last season; yet the biggest increase in mileage from year to year is for the Montreal Canadiens, who see their travel distance grow by 5,901 miles to 38,029 in total.
Hoag's been doing this assessment of the NHL schedule for at least the last three seasons, so we asked him: Does travel really make a difference? And was the NHL fair in the way it built this schedule around the 2010 Winter Olympic break?
For example, the Vancouver Canucks are on the road for 48,221 miles, which is actually down from last season (51,206). That's probably little solace for the Canucks fans that were knocked on their rumps with the news that the 2010 Olympic host city's team has an epic 14-game road trip -- that means a February without a Vancouver home game.
"[The Olympic break] may be part of it more than anything," Hoag said. "The thing is, for teams that are geographically isolated, a long road trip with lots of games is probably a good thing."
Indeed: While they had a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks to break up the streak, the Los Angeles Kings had eight of nine on the road earlier this year and went 7-1-1 in the stretch. Success can happen.
As a Western Conference guy, Hoag believes that travel makes a big difference.
"Especially for Western Conference teams it does. You look at the Northwest Division and Dallas ... even if they play their division rivals, they're looking at a few hours on a plane and just the hassle involved in all of it. Particularly if you have a back-to-back situation," he said.
"If you're Philadelphia, and you're playing back-to-back with New Jersey and Washington, that's not as big a deal as teams who have to play a game, travel a thousand miles and play again the next day."
Back-to-back games are something else Hoag covers in his chart, discovering some interesting trends:
(Some interesting Edmonton Oilers sleuthing on back-to-back games over on The Copper and Blue.)
What's amazing, according to Hoag, is the way the NHL handled its Olympic break, which begins on Feb. 15 and runs through the end of the month. In fact, he said the League's ability to limit the number of back-to-back games in a condensed schedule is remarkable.
"They increased the number of games where there's only one game off in between -- like a Thursday and a Saturday. That went up, while the number of two, three and four-day breaks went down by that same amount," he said.
As he wrote on his blog:
The NHL schedule makers should be given credit for not increasing the number of back-to-backs, given the Olympic Break which has to be wedged into the same overall timetable. How'd they do this? Well, there are many more games on the total schedule which have one day off in between (1,359 in the upcoming season, as opposed to 1,250 last year). Just as games after 1 day off have gone up, games after 2, 3, or 4 days off have gone down by a similar amount (682 to 581). So basically the NHL took those longer breaks and compressed down quite a bit, while avoiding a rash of back-to-backs. Kudos to them on that score.
Even when there isn't an Olympic year, the way the NHL juggles its schedule is impressive, considering the amount of special requests (the circus! Yanni!) and considerations that have to be made.
Like on Hoag mentioned that we hadn't heard before for Nashville.
"No home games on a Wednesday night," he said, saying that the scheduling anomaly has occurred two years straight.
"Wednesday night is a huge church night here [in Nashville]. It's hard to get people out."
Who knew? Well, besides the NHL schedule-makers ...