Living on the Edge: The Effects of Pure Conference Play
By: Miranda Martin
With the NHL’s opening night beginning in a matter of hours, players and fans alike are trying to adjust to a new schedule of games over the next three months. However, with the shortened season only allowing inner-conference play, it leaves many wondering just what is in store.
For several years, there has always been at least a slight representation of inter-conference play in every team’s full 82-game schedule. In 2008-2009, the NHL reinstated the schedules from before the 2004-2005 lockout, where every team would be able to play all 29 other teams at least once within a season. It led to a nicely blended schedule, and it has now become a regular notion to see a few Eastern Conference teams on the schedule. Without it this year… well, it honestly looks weird. So what are the effects of a pure Western Conference season?
One of the major points of playing in just one conference is the heavy importance of these games. Even with an 82-game season, the past several years in the Western Conference has been a traffic jam for the final spots in the playoffs. This season could make the others look like child’s play. Three-point overtime and shootout games are going to essentially determine who will be in the playoffs, and there is constant pressure for the highest performance. That was the beauty of Eastern conference play. The intensity, while somewhat there, became lax for a game or two, which helps teams recharge the momentum.
While unfortunately Nashville will not be graced with Sidney Crosby’s golden thighs (and the droves of unnecessary media attention that comes with them), there are some definite perks to this schedule. Firstly, there has always been a difference in the style of play in each conference. Even with players who cross the conference lines, it always seems that the Eastern conference is generally known for their offense and the Western conference is generally known for their defense. This schedule is essentially the season of hockey Mythbusters (just give Chris Mason glasses and a beret). Will the East continue to be known for its several finesse-style teams while the West beats the snot out of each other in the corners? Or will there be some evidence that the styles of play are not determined by conference?
This schedule also means that the Stanley Cup Finals this year will likely be one of the most exciting and possibly shocking series the league has ever seen—a great follow up to the unlikely LA Kings and New Jersey Devils series from last year. With as many teams that made summer signings and trading transactions, many teams are significantly different than their previous years. Besides video and analysis, there is absolutely no previous preparation for the teams. After working all season with just fifteen different teams, there’s a brand new team thrown in at the end of the season, and no one can say “well when we played them in the regular season” to prepare. It’s generally what makes the Stanley Cup finals so entertaining every year, but this year, the intensity of East vs West at the end will be amplified even more.
Essentially, the pure-conference schedule leaves no room for error from beginning to end. It also means that the games will take it up a notch, which will lead to some of the most entertaining hockey this league has ever seen.