Monday, February 5, 2007

Free the Red Wings!

Tonight is a beautiful night in New York City (despite the cold weather). For the first time since October 25, 2003, the Detroit Red Wings will be playing the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

You would think that since they are both professional hockey teams in the same league that they would play each other a little more often. But since the NHL has returned from its lockout, they have implemented a schedule that basically Balkanizes the league east and west.

Now the Red Wings only play original six teams like the Montreal Canadians, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers once a year, at most. Some teams they don’t play at all in a season.

Especially when it comes to the Maple Leafs, this is particularly egregious. Having a rivalry with the Maple Leafs would be healthy for the NHL. These two teams represent the two biggest, most hockey mad markets in the NHL. They are also four hours away by car and train and all the way to London, Ontario you have Wings fan. At least one home and home series between these teams in a season is a must.

The problem is the Wings are in the Western Conference, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even more curious are division rivals Nashville and Columbus. Time will tell whether expansion to warm weather cities and small television markets was the right move for the league, but so far it has watered down the product and the moves by the league to generate interest have been puzzling.

They want to create rivalries, but playing the same team 8 times in a season can only breed familiarity of contempt. It means 40 percent of the games the Red Wings play are against their divisions rivals. (The Chicago Black Hawks make sense, though. I’ll give the NHL that one.)

There was a recent vote to amend the schedule so there would be more intra-conference play, but the owners voted it down, reportedly because some of them did not want to pay the increased travel costs. That seems to be typical NHL owner thinking, save a few dollars while overall interest in the sport continues to wane. They should be doing everything they can to get back on ESPN (now that they have four of them) and to make sure the Wings play in New York and Toronto at least once a year.

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