The NHL schedule could potentially look very different in a year's time.
The report further revealed that the decision was being weighed on the basis of a number of potential benefits, namely to ease the travel demands of the NHL schedule and — more importantly — increase revenue across the league.
ESPN's Greg Wyshynski provided more clarity on Friday, reporting that the league has discussed expanding the regular season from 82 to 84 games. Although the topic was not discussed at this week's board of governors meetings, it is expected to be on the agenda at the general managers' meeting in March.
By adding two games, the NHL would be able to give divisional rivals four games against each other every year, while also allowing each team to visit every other team at least once. Under the current format, teams play three or four games against division rivals (26 games) and twice against opponents from the other conference (32 games). Each team also currently plays three games against other teams in their conference outside of their division (24 games).
News of the possibility comes just days after league commissioner Gary Bettman shared that the NHL’s salary cap would potentially only be going up by $1 million next season, which was much lower than initially expected. The cap remains stagnant due to an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA that required all escrow debts to be paid off from the pandemic for the salary cap to increase by the $4 million figure that had been floated around. Bettman shared on Tuesday that projections leave the players association with approximately $70 million in escrow for the end of the season.
The decision also comes in the wake of the 2021 COVID-shortened NHL season, which saw teams exclusively play teams within their division for the entirety of the 56-game schedule. While the league would save some money on travel, teams would more importantly project to draw more ticket sales due to the increased number of rivalry games.
New Jersey, for example, drew 12,744 fans per game last season on average. Against their interstate rival New York Rangers, the Devils saw nearly a 25 percent increase in ticket sales, averaging 15,767 in the building during those games.
These latest details present a much more palatable alternative than the initial report on the number of inter-division games. Fans often drew weary of facing the same team up to 10 times during the COVID-shortened season, though the NHL seems unlikely to base their decisions on fan feedback, evidenced by Bettman’s comments on the appeal of digital board ads earlier this week.
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