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Don’t Overthink It, Why It’s a Bad Idea to Flip NHL Hub Cities

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Pittsburgh Penguins NHL hub locker room
Pittsburgh Penguins Photo from Imgur User: Chenac

We have all been there. In a group setting or negotiation, a harmless idea or someone’s firmly held conviction can sway a group. Suddenly, the product is lessened, or the event is changed for the worse. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the rest of the Eastern Conference could play in the Western Conference NHL hub city, while the Western Conference teams play in the East.

Just so two teams don’t get a home-ice advantage?

Multiple reports indicate Las Vegas will be the Western NHL hub city. In the east, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Columbus are still vying for the spot. Will riding a familiar stationary bike, throwing a matt over the Pittsburgh Penguins (or Toronto Maple Leafs) logo, or knowing which restaurant has the best delivery really provide an advantage?

The NHL is too cute by half on this one.

Leave well enough alone. One team may be a little comfier with the arena choice. One group of players may know the ins and outs of the arena, the soft spot on the boards, or that one little stanchion which will every so often give a quirky bounce. But there will not be 18,000 fans going bonkers for either team.

Without the boost from the fans or the comforts of home, getting the last line change is really the only significant home-ice advantage.

So, without the fans, or the creature comforts of home, is there really a home-ice advantage which would be afforded to a team playing in its home rink? It’s not like the Pittsburgh Penguins, or Toronto Maple Leafs would keep their posh home locker rooms if they were the “visiting” team. Like everyone else, they, too, would draw the visitor’s room when appropriate.

Somehow, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins staged a pair of epic Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009 with a couple of the worst visitor’s rooms in the league. The home locker rooms weren’t so sweet, either.

I’m skeptical an NHL hub city as a home arena would help any team in the slightest. In fact, a home team playing on their home ice but using the visitor’s facilities could be as much of a detriment, since they know another team is using “their” stuff.

There’s also the time zone difference. 

If the NHL puts Eastern Conference teams out west, the time zone will be a factor, perhaps for the bodies, but most importantly for television. For the NHL to keep a tight schedule and award the Stanely Cup within a couple of months of the commencement of Phase 4, the NHL must schedule two games per day in the Qualifying Round and Round One.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the Pacific Time Zone, a 7 or 8 p.m. game on TV in Pittsburgh will start at 4 or 5 p.m. there. That’s not the worst thing in the world. But the second game becomes the issue. Will the NHL schedule a noon game on a Tuesday afternoon, which airs at 3 p.m here? Or will they schedule a 7 p.m. local game which airs at 10 p.m here?

I’m all for hockey all day. The TV networks may not like the local playoff game at 10 p.m. as much.

The Western Conference teams would have the inverse problem. It would be nearly impossible to have a prime time game in the Pacific Time Zone. In either Pittsburgh or Toronto, the game would need to start at 10 p.m. local time for primetime games out west. Or 9 p.m. for the Mountain Time Zone.

So, NHL Playoff games would air at 11 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m in the Mountain Time Zone, and noon and 5 p.m in the Central Time Zone.

That’s bad news for TV revenue as there will be six Pacific and Mountain teams, which is half of the Western Conference field.

Since most players aren’t from the Pacific Time Zone, there will be a body clock adjustment factor, too. NHL Phase 3 training camps will be held in home cities. Then teams will travel to the NHL hub city for Phase 4.

The body clock adjustment factor seems like a much bigger factor than who gets to sit in Sidney Crosby’s or Auston Matthew’s locker stall. And the lower TV revenues cinch it. Let the East play in the east and the West play in the west.

Don’t overthink it.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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