Bruins

Why NHL needs to change regular season schedule to add more rivalry games

Bruins

The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have the most intense and historic rivalry in NHL history, and the latest chapter in that almost 100-year story will be written Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.

There's one problem with that, though.

This will be the first time the Bruins and Canadiens have played all season. It's almost February. This matchup also is one of just three head-to-head meetings between these teams.

Three games between the Bruins and Canadiens? Do better, NHL.

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The Canadiens will host the Bruins in Montreal the same amount of times -- only once! -- they play the Coyotes, Predators, Sharks, Kings and Golden Knights, etc., at home this season. This scenario should never be a reality.

The following rivalries will feature just three head-to-head games this season:

  • Canadiens vs. Bruins
  • Oilers vs. Flames
  • Penguins vs. Flyers
  • Rangers vs. Islanders

The league's recent expansion to 32 teams has forced rivalries to take a bit of a backseat. Every team plays its 16 non-conference opponents twice, once at home and once on the road, for a total of 32 games. Every team also plays its eight non-divisional opponents within its own conference three times. This accounts for 24 games. As a result, there are only 26 games left for divisional opponents, which means every team plays some division rivals three times and others four times. 

"You'd like to have six games against each team, but (with) 32 teams we can't do it anymore," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said after his team's emotional 4-3 win against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Jan. 14. "There are big games like this as our season continues. We haven't played Montreal yet, and we only play them three times." 

 

That tilt between the Bruins and Leafs was one of the most exciting games of the entire season so far. There were seven goals, 61 hits, a great fight and 60 minutes of physical, end-to-end action between two teams that don't like each other.

"There's players on their team that certain guys on our team don't like, and I'm sure it's the same way (with Toronto)," Montgomery said after the Jan. 14 victory. "That's what makes a rivalry and that's why it was such a heated, good hockey game."

More of that please!

The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry isn't the only one being affected by the league's current scheduling format.

The Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers is the most notable example. The Oilers played the Flames in their second and ninth games of the year, and then the season series concluded Dec. 27. Zero matchups between the Oilers and Flames over the final four months of the regular season is unacceptable and bad for the sport. 

What can be done to add more games between rivals?

Well, for starters, not every team needs to play each non-conference club twice. With all due respect to Western Conference franchises such as the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators, they don't need to play the Bruins twice. No one is going to miss those games if one or both are eliminated. Three games against every non-divisional opponent from the same conference is also too much. The Bruins don't need to play the New Jersey Devils or the Washington Capitals more than twice, especially if additional games versus the Canadiens and Leafs can be created. 

The league and the NHLPA also could add more games to the regular season schedule. An 84-game schedule has been used by the NHL before, but not since 1993-94. Shortening the preseason and adding a couple regular season games makes sense, but more games means more chances for injuries, too.

The bottom line is the NHL needs to figure out how to create more games like we saw from the Bruins-Leafs on Jan. 14 in Boston. The idea of every team playing the other 31 at least twice makes sense in theory, but when you only get three or four matchups against your favorite team's most hated rival as a result, it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed soon.

It would be great if the league's marquee stars, such as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, played in every arena once per season, but it shouldn't happen at the expense of rivalries. 

The league has severely hurt rivalries with its current schedule format. If the league wants to make the regular season more exciting, it will change its schedule to allow more of these types of games to occur.