The NHL finally released its 2013-2014 schedule today after a series of missteps and delays, due ostensibly to the need to confirm what everyone already knew — that the NHL will participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Along with the schedule release came the announcement of the names for the four divisions in which teams will compete next season.
Three of the four division names are carry-overs. In the West, the Central and Pacific divisions survive, while the Northwest disappears. In the East, the Southeast and Northeast names go by the wayside, with the Atlantic surviving and the lone new name applied to the Blue Jackets’ division — now known as the Metropolitan Division. Not bad, and better than the bland geographic labels the rest of the league gets, but still lacking the panache of the Adams, Norris, Patrick and Smythe. It does evoke images of Perry White, Clark Kent & Lois Lane though . . .
While the name is intriguing, the real focus is on the schedule itself — one of the major benefits that Columbus fans have been drooling over since the dream of moving east became a reality.
As designed in the realignment plan, Columbus will play 54 games within the Eastern Conference — 30 against their Metropolitan Division rivals — and 28 against the West. Of the division games, the Blue Jackets will play five games against the Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes, with Columbus getting three home games against Pittsburgh, and two against Carolina. (No doubt the Blue Jackets’ brass are saying silent thanks to the schedule makers. Three home games against the Penguins translates into 57,000+ filled seats.) Columbus will play the rest of the division (Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers and Capitals) four times each, with equal road and home appearances.
The Blue Jackets will face the Atlantic Division teams three times each, with Columbus having the home ice advantage against Florida, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Detroit. The balance of the schedule is a home-and-home against each team in the West.
How Do You Spell Relief? E-A-S-T
For the first time in franchise history, the club and fans can look at the travel schedule and smile. The longest road trip of the season is a five-game Canadian Odyssey from November 17 through November 25, beginning in Ottawa, and going to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto in sequence. Yeah, I know . . . Toronto at the end? Must have been one of those building availability issues. Still, only three of those games are late night experiences for the fans, so this one is a piece of cake compared to past years.
The schedule also includes a four-game stint from December 31 through January 6 (yep, no New Year’s Eve game at home this year), covering Colorado, Phoenix, St. Louis and the New York Rangers. There are a few three-gamers sprinkled through the schedule, including the lone California trip from February 3 through February 7, which immediately precedes the Olympic break.
More importantly, for the vast majority of the travel, the club will likely have the option to return home to Columbus in between games (we are, after all, at The Heart of It All). Even the most remote reaches of the Eastern Conference — Tampa and Miami, were kindly reserved for a season-ending back-to-back. The Blue Jackets can do this in their sleep. Columbus will be done with the Pacific and Mountain time zones by February 7, reducing the miles they’ll put on down the stretch.
Of course, being an Olympic year, there are prices to pay for all concerned. The Blue Jackets will have 17 back-to-back engagements throughout the year, but only three of those have both ends on the road. Nine begin on the road, and five begin at home. Not ideal, but everyone is in the same boat on that score.
The Blue Jackets will have but a single home game in February — a February 1 matchup against the Panthers, after which they head to California and the Olympic break. Coming out of the Olympics, they play at New Jersey then return home for a March 1 encounter with . . . Florida. Such are the oddities of the Olympics. However, they play eight out of nine at home between October 20 and November 9.
Highlights, Lowlights and Oddities
Every year brings some intriguing quirks of the schedule, and this year is no exception. However, as the Blue Jackets debut in the East, and in light of recent transactions, some dates clearly stand out above others. Here’s the best (and worst) of what the season has to offer:
- Two of the five Penguins games come in a November 1 & 2 back-to-back encounter that starts in Pittsburgh and ends at Nationwide. Suggestion: Stay off I-70 those two days.
- The Blue Jackets will face their alter-egos — the New York Rangers — in home games November 7 and March 21.
- Philadelphia gets to visit the Vezina Trophy on December 21 and January 23
- Ovechkin enters the house twice in January — on the 17th and 30th.
- Opening Night is Friday, October 4, against . . . Calgary. Really guys? That’s the best you could do for our Eastern Inaugural? Wow . . .
- As noted above, no New Year’s Eve game at home, but they do play at the Avalanche that night. You’ll be up anyway, so it’s like a freebie . . .
- The last home game of the year is April 8 against . . . Phoenix. Again — really, guys?
- The Blue Jackets play home games on six consecutive Tuesdays between March 4 and April 8.
- There are only eight Saturday home games all season.
- The Blue Jackets get 10 Friday home dates and four Sundays. So, just over half of the home schedule is on a weekend.
- Columbus won’t see the Blackhawks until March 6
- The Blue Jackets play at Detroit on October 15th . . . then don’t see them again until March 11.
- Only one visit to the Death Star in Nashville (March 8)
- A total of seven Pacific/Mountain time games (11/19, 11/20, 11/22, 1/2, 2/3, 2/6 and 2/7)
So, now the anticipation can begin, even though the season just ended. While some of the benefit of the East is tempered by the Olympic crunch, it’s the same situation for everybody, and Kroger sales of No-Doz should plummet.
With the schedule out, I’ll be turning the editorial focus toward the Eastern opposition, some remaining roster possibilities, CannonFest IV and other topics. Stay tuned, the puck drops for real in just 78 days!