How Blackhawks players would alter the NHL schedule

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) celebrates the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the New York Islanders with goalie Corey Crawford (50) after an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Chicago.

    Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) celebrates the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the New York Islanders with goalie Corey Crawford (50) after an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/9/2020 6:48 AM
First in a series.

With the NHL on hiatus due to COVID-19, we thought this would be a good time to rerun our "One Change in the NHL" series that ran in January 2019.

For those who missed it, I asked dozens of players, coaches and media members to elaborate on one thing they'd like to see the league do differently.

 

When the project began, I feared only four or five themes would be repeated over and over again. To my pleasant surprise, the exact opposite happened and readers were treated to a wide variety of ideas.

We are going to split this series into five parts and give an added twist: My thoughts on suggestions by the players and coaches. Away we go ...

• • •

The 82-game NHL season is a grind. So much so that players talked with great passion about how they would fix this grueling -- some would say unfair -- part of the game.

• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews wants divisional opponents to play two games in two or three days at one location. "When you play a playoff series, you go play two games there and then you come back. So why can't we do that during the season?"

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Toews was adamant that this would help keep everyone's energy level up as the season progresses.

"It's constant on the plane, on the bus, on the plane, on the bus," Toews said. "Just for one game here, one game there? That's frustrating."

Dietz's thoughts: I love it. The Hawks' schedule has been a complete nightmare lately, and especially this season. The worst quirks:

-- A two-game road trip to Vegas on Nov. 13 and Nashville on Nov. 16

-- A home date against Colorado on Nov. 29; at Colorado the next day

-- At Vegas on Dec. 10; at Arizona on Dec. 12; at St. Louis on Dec. 14

-- Out of the bye week, they were at Arizona on Feb. 1, at Minnesota on Feb. 4 and hosted Boston on Feb. 5.

-- A five-game Canadian road trip that started AND ended in Winnipeg.

Other teams -- and especially those in the Western Conference -- always have similar issues.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's no doubt that the schedule is a complex beast, but the league really ought to figure out a way to implement Toews' idea.

• Corey Crawford wants the season to start in mid-to-late September so teams can play three games a week and never back-to-back. "It's only going to make our games faster and give teams a rest. You won't get those game where teams are waiting for other teams just to pound on 'em.

"Get rid of the back-to-back games. Enough with that. Guys are tired, guys get hurt. It's too high a level to ask these players to compete night in, night out like that. It doesn't make sense. Somebody's got to say something about it."

Dietz's thoughts: Crawford makes some valid points. Why not start the season on about Sept. 28 instead of Oct. 3, 4 or 5? Condense the preseason by playing six games in 9-10 days. Then eliminate the bye week and you've just bought yourself 14 extra days to spread things out.

• Former Hawks forward Artem Anisimov was OK with back-to-backs, but only if both games are at home. "(Sometimes) one game starts at 7:30, the next game (in another city) starts at 6. ... You go to the airport, fly, drive home. How are you supposed to recover and play at a high level the next game? It's painful for the body."

Dietz's thoughts: A fantastic idea. You almost never see back-to-back home games on a schedule. Makes no sense to me.

Dietz's final thought: The NHL is all about rivalries. At least it used to be. So when Seattle begins play in 2021, the league should seriously consider a schedule that looks like this:

-- Each team plays division foes six times a season (42 games).

-- Play the other teams in your conference three times each (24 games)

-- Play one game against each team in the other conference (16 games).

This means Hawks fans will only see Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos at the United Center every other year, but who cares?

Promoting rivalries means more engaged fan bases across the country. Over time, that can only be a good thing for the sport.

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