Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why the NHL Needs to Restructure

Historians are often times discouraged from going on fantastical "what-if" quests. We're told it's best not to wander down that path, because it's full of speculation that we can't really ever confirm. What happened is what happened. So don't think about what would have happened if Hitler had won the Battle of the Bulge, or if Kennedy had never been assassinated, would we have gone into Vietnam. However, watching these playoffs has reinvigorated in me a train of thought that has plagued me for the past few years.

The Detroit Red Wings (and other Western Conference teams) are screwed over by the NHL's current structure because of the intense travel requirements foisted upon them come playoff time.

To argue this point, I will be conducting a thought experiment, wherein the Detroit Red Wings are not eliminated from the playoffs by Nashville. Instead, they will win all of their playoff series in 6 games. All other series happen as they actually did. The purpose of this is to demonstrate what teams in the West have to go through to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

So, the Red Wings beat the Predators in 6 games. Los Angeles beats Vancouver and goes on to play St. Louis. Phoenix beats Chicago and plays Detroit instead of Nashville. Los Angeles sweeps the Blues, and Detroit defeats Phoenix in 6 games (and Gary Bettman and Shane Doan die a little bit more inside). Conference finals is Los Angeles against Detroit, and Detroit finds a way to win once again, and heads to the Stanley Cup Finals.

What I'm about to show you is the total respective travel distances and time zone changes each team had to endure in order to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

v Nashville: 1 hour 45 minutes flight time from Detroit to Nashville with 470 miles distance and no time zone changes. 4 one way trips (or two round trips) are made during a 6 game series. 7 hours of flight time and 1,880 miles covered.

v Phoenix: 4 hours flight time from Detroit to Phoenix and 1,690 miles distance with 3 time zone changes. 4 one way trips (or two round trips) are made during a 6 game series. 16 hours of flight time and 7,520 miles (equal to flying from New York City to Los Angeles and back to New York City) covered with 4 time zone changes from Eastern to Pacific time (or vice versa)

v Los Angeles: 4 hours 30 minutes flight time from Detroit to Los Angeles and 1,984 miles distance with 3 time zone changes. 4 one way trips (or two round trips) are made during a 6 game series. 18 hours of flight time and 7,936 miles covered with 4 time zone changes from Eastern to Pacific time (or vice versa).

Total Distance Covered: 17,336 miles or roughly the distance from Detroit, Michigan to Athens, Greece
Total Flight Time: 41 hours or 1 day, 17 hours
Time Zone Changes: The Red Wings would travel from the Eastern to Pacific time zone or vice versa 8 times

After the break, I do the same thing for the Rangers, the Capitals* and the Devils.

The theorized series will also go 6 games, just like the theorized Red Wings series. *Note: I started writing this post prior to game 7 between New York and Washington. I am going to keep Washington's numbers as another example of the imbalance between travel requirements for Eastern and Western conference teams.


Rangers:
v Ottawa: 1 hour 30 minutes of flight time with 336 miles of distance covered. 5 one way trips made during a 7 game series. No time zone changes. 7 hours 30 minutes of flight time and 2,352 miles covered.

v Washington: 1 hour 15 minutes of flight time and 204 miles distance. 5 one way trips made during a 7 game series. No time zone changes. 6 hours 15 minutes of flight time and 1,428 miles covered

v New Jersey: The distance from New York City to Newark, New Jersey where the Devils play is like 8 miles. The teams would not need to fly, simply carpool. We will add no additional flight time, and 60 miles. Obviously no time zone changes.

Total Distance: 3,786 miles
Total Flight Time: 13 hours, 45 minutes
Time Zone Changes: None

Devils
v Florida (Miami): 3 hours of flight time with 1,086 miles distance and no time zone changes. 5 one way trips are made during a 7 game series with no time zone changes. 15 hours of flight time and 5,430 miles traveled.

v Philadelphia: 4 hour of flight time with 75 miles of distance covered. 3 one way trips are made during a 5 game series with no time zone changes. 3 hours of flight time and 225 miles are traveled.

v New York: The distance from New York City to Newark, New Jersey where the Devils play is like 8 miles. The teams would not need to fly, simply carpool. We will add no additional flight time, and 60 miles. Obviously no time zone changes.

Total Distance: 5,715 miles
Total Flight Time: 18 hours
Time Zone Changes: None

Capitals*
v Boston: 1 hour 30 minutes flight time with 394 miles distance and no time zone changes. 5 one way trips made during a 7 game series. No time zone changes. 7 hours 30 minutes of flight time and 2,578 miles covered.
v New York: 1 hour 15 minutes of flight time and 204 miles distance. 5 one way trips made during a 7 game series. No time zone changes. 6 hours 15 minutes of flight time and 1,428 miles covered
v New Jersey: 1 hour of flight time and 197 miles distance. 4 one way trips made during a 6 game series. No time zone changes. 4 hours of flight time and 788 miles covered

Total Distance: 4,794 miles
Total Flight Time: 17 hours, 45 minutes
Time Zone Changes: None

Let's compare:
Distance: 17,336 miles v 5,715 miles v 4,794 miles v 3,786 miles
Flight Time: 41 hours v 18 hours v 17 hours, 45 minutes v 13 hours, 45 minutes

The fact of the matter is, the only one who got a bad draw in the Eastern Conference in terms of travel was New Jersey, and they did everyone else in the East a favorite by knocking out Florida. The Western Conference was evenly split with 4 teams on the West coast and 4 teams from the Central Division. And how do you think Edmonton, Dallas, Colorado, Calgary, and Minnesota felt about that? Probably relieved that they didn't have to fly all the way to Los Angeles and back. But also probably pretty pissed that half of the teams in the playoffs were from one division.

One way for Detroit to avoid a West Coast playoff trip: They beat Nashville, Vancouver beats LA, St. Louis beats San Jose and Chicago beats Phoenix, putting #5 Detroit against #2 St. Louis and Vancouver against Chicago. Then #6 Chicago has to beat #1 Vancouver, and Detroit has to beat St. Louis. That gets you a Detroit versus Chicago Western Conference finals and reduces both teams' travel by thousands of miles.

So if you honestly still believe that the NHL doesn't need to realign the conferences to be more travel fair and friendly to Western Conference teams, I think you're delusional. I also wonder what it's like to be a fan of an Eastern Conference team. Also, somebody please double check my math. It's not always the greatest.

Let's Go Red Wings

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