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PHN Blog: NHL Season WAY Too Long, Penguins Logjamming

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Carter, Tristan Jarry

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship before the NHL Stanley Cup Final is two games old. Sure, there were different COVID rules, and the NHL eventually adopted the no-sniffles, no test policy well after the NBA, but it’s June 17, and we’re waiting for Game 2. And, the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason is inching, inching forward.

Oh, and the NHL season is just way, way, wayyyyy, toooo long.

Way too long.

Society is changing. Sometimes, it is changing faster than any of us even realize. People are too busy for games. They leave early. They stare at their phone while the action continues on the ice. Sure, I’ve been guilty of the phone part, though it’s partly my job.

Has anyone ever said, “Oh, geez, you mean the NHL regular season is almost over already? It feels like it just started!”

However, the COVID-shortened 56-game season featured some of the best regular-season hockey we’ve ever seen. The compacted schedule added urgency to games. We’ll discuss the added values of divisional games and baseball-style series another time.

Now, let’s connect the obvious and neon-flashing dots of the long NHL schedule.

A veteran of 17 NHL seasons, Pittsburgh Penguins center Jeff Carter noticed, too.

“(82-games) was definitely different. After two years of shortened seasons, this one felt a lot different. I think at times throughout the second half, personally, it kind of caught you a little bit,” Carter said on breakup day in May. “I think the coaches and the strength staff and all of them, they do a good job of managing. And I think they understood kind of how it was this year.”

The NHL had record ratings in the 56-game schedule. The Penguins TV ratings topped a 7.0 share. The Penguins TV ratings again topped all NHL teams this season but fell 30% to the mid-5s.

The Penguins’ sellout streak also ended. Coincidentally?

I can already read the comments, “It’s about revenue…”

Well, yes.

But no.

NHL teams generally don’t make a profit on regular-season games. Perhaps new arena deals, silly parking fees, and beer prices have helped, but most teams are in the middle. They break even, or they lose money in the regular season.

About 40% of the team revenues on the old TV deal came from the gate and concessions. Perhaps when the bean counters finish with this year’s tally, that percentage will drop because of the new TV deal. But hockey still relies on the paying fans donning new jerseys, drinking a beer or three, and parking revenues far more than other sports.

Could we pack more fans into the arena and maybe get a few more dollars per visit if we had fewer games? The TV ratings said people were more interested when there were fewer games. It stands to reason the same would apply to attendance.

The supply and demand curve might meet somewhere between 56 and 82?

Also, high TV ratings mean higher ad revenues. A two-point rating drop again means the optimal supply and demand curve again lies between 56 and 82. Fewer games on TV with higher ratings could indeed net more money than the 82-game season.

Fewer games also mean longer offseasons, fewer injuries, and longer careers.

The biggest argument, besides money, has always been the need to showcase stars in opposing conference cities. What if Sidney Crosby didn’t play in each Western Conference city?

Well…how many of those games were sellouts? Connor McDavid didn’t sell out Pittsburgh, either. In fact, the inter-conference games draw even less interest.

Are they really necessary every season? Fans can see the highlights of the game’s amazing players on their phones daily and watch every game for $5 a month.

Shorten the season, and increase interest.

Of course, I have a better chance of the NHL DoPS retroactively deciding that a defenseman shouldn’t be able to throw forearm shivers to opposing melons.

Pittsburgh Penguins Logjamming

As RFA winger Kasperi Kapanen joked on breakup day, GM Ron Hextall has a few more significant decisions to make before getting to Kapanen.

However, we’re less than one month away from free agency. Hextall is running out of time.

Presumably, Kris Letang is first on the docket as he’ll be the most expensive and difficult to replace. But in short order, Hextall must get a signature on a contract, or cut bait, followed by the same process with Evgeni Malkin, and then decisions on Kapanen, Danton Heinen, followed by readjusting plans for replacements based on salary cap space available.

Trades take time, too. Not many GMs can spin a deal from nothing to Elliotte Friedman’s tweet in less than a week as former GM Jim Rutherford did on occasion.

Finding an RHD on the NHL trade market to replace Kris Letang won’t be easy. There are a couple of names out there, Jeff Petry or Tyson Barrie, but the Penguins aren’t the only team in bright orange bouncing around on the hunt.

Sellers are under no obligation to accept what you or I may think is a fair deal, especially when opposing GMs believe the price will go up as buyers become more desperate.

There’s no hard deadline for any of these decisions, but on July 13 outside influences will get a say on the Penguins’ free agents.

Hextall’s to-do list is getting logjammed and the longer the top decisions take, the less time or control he’ll have over the others. It would seem a Letang or Malkin deal (or no deal) could, or should, come within the next week. If Hextall needs to swing a trade, there isn’t a better opportunity than the NHL Draft on July 7 and 8.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Andy
Andy
13 days ago

76 games is long enough. Play Western teams once a year and rotate home and away. I would rather see more games against division foes than the other divisions.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
13 days ago

Raising ticket prices parking fees and concession prices heading into a recession. This is all discretionary spending and fans will pare back. Lots of empty seats next year.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
13 days ago

I don’t agree. League expansion warrants the schedule length. Pick on baseball for you crusade. I’m fine with it as is.

David
David
13 days ago

I wish they would get rid of 2 teams and have 6 five team divisions, 3 in each conference. 6 divisional winners, and 1 wild card in each conference (8 total teams) make the playoffs, which would be 3 rounds. That would make the regular season meaningful. Could shorten the regular season to 70 games. But this is never going to happen because the revenue drop would be unacceptable. That is the problem with expansion — you cannot go back if you want to pay for everything.

Joe
Joe
13 days ago

If the NHL wants a long season then they should consider increasing roster sizes so that guys can get more rest with healthy scratches, maybe even limit the number of games guys can play to force rest. I’d advocate trying to cut down on injuries by taking the illegal stuff out of the game, but we all know that’s just crazy talk.

Keith T.
Keith T.
13 days ago

Season length, Meh. Interesting but a lot of factors determine length of season. Owners, Players Union, all have a vested interest to maximize income. I am sure they have plotted this out. In the end, the market will sort it out. Yes, the Pens are in a time logjam. One would think that there is a drop-dead date…. or a take-it-or-leave-it offer with a deadline. Perhaps they could garnish a pick if they know they can’t sign a player and then move him to a team that covets him for a 4th round pick or something (hint, hint) Habs. For… Read more »

Paul
Paul
13 days ago

Why put overpaid athletes and Fake News under such emotional and physical trauma? Just disband the league and be done with it. BTW, who did you say won the NBA title . . .?

Last edited 13 days ago by Paul
Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
12 days ago
Maybe take out an entire division each schedule year- what does do-maybe reduce the schedule by 10 games? Do it! 
Last edited 12 days ago by Rich Filardi
Ujn Hunter
10 days ago

Why are you looking at this 56/82 games “interest” in a vacuum? Of course interest was higher during the 56 game season, but not because it wasn’t 82 games… it was because of the lost time from COVID. People missed watching sports (hockey). It has nothing to do with 56 vs 82. Or did you forget?

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