The NHL has discussed expanding its regular season from 82 to 84 games in an effort to create more regional rivalry matchups, sources confirmed to ESPN.
The league has been considering alternatives to its current schedule after some teams complained about an imbalanced number of divisional games against rivals.
Currently, each team plays either three or four games against divisional opponents, for a total of 26 games; they play three games against nondivisional teams within their own conference, for a total of 24 games; and they play two games, home and away, against opponents from the other conference for a total of 32 games.
In the Metropolitan Division, for example, the New York Rangers play the rival New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers only three times each. The Rangers’ Dec. 22 game against the Islanders is the last time the teams will meet in the 2022-23 regular season.
The addition of two regular-season games would allow the NHL to keep its current schedule format, which sees every team visit every opponent at least once, while giving divisional rivals four games against each other every season. One theory is that the preseason schedule could be shortened to compensate for the additional games. Games against divisional rivals typically draw larger crowds and bigger audiences on national and local television. “They could play Calgary in Edmonton 10 times and sell them all out. It’s crazy,” said one NHL general manager.
Expansion of the regular season to 84 games is in the discussion stage. The topic wasn’t mentioned at this week’s board of governors meeting in Palm Beach, but it’s expected to be discussed at the general managers’ meeting in March 2023.
While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has steadfastly opposed adding teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a source tells ESPN that Bettman might consider expanding the regular season.
“I think it’s really the simplest way to go,” said the NHL source.
The NHL previously had an 84-game regular season from 1992-94, when the league and the NHLPA agreed to add two “neutral site” games to every team’s schedule.
Expanding the regular season is just one solution being considered to add more rivalry games to the schedule. At their meeting in Toronto last month, the NHL’s general managers discussed how to create a schedule that reduces travel and adds more rivalry games — including playing multiple games against an opponent on a road trip, something the NHL implemented during its 2020-21 season that was limited to 56 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The discussion centered around the fact that, for example, Edmonton only plays Calgary [three times] this season,” one general manager told ESPN. “Why not take advantage of rivalries and save money by scheduling more intra-divisional games and more games per stop? The COVID schedule seemed to work.”
Sportico first reported on their discussions at the Toronto meeting.
The NHL declined to comment. Any changes to the schedule would need NHLPA approval. Regarding the 84-game season, the CBA restricts teams from playing more than 82 games, so any potential increase would require the players’ approval.
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