The NHL schedule has been released and the number-crunchers have already put in some great work in breaking it down. As always, there are fun match-ups to kick off the season, such as Los Angeles hosting San Jose and Montreal visiting Toronto. But which teams will really be grinding through 82 games and which ones get more of a cozier ride?
One way to look at it is distance traveled. Writer Dirk Hoag released his annual analysis, tabbing the Arizona Coyotes as the team that will log the most miles over the course of the season, with the Philadelphia Flyers the least amount. This is certainly one way to parse the stats, but considering Los Angeles has won two of the past three Stanley Cups, it clearly doesn't kill your chances of glory if you have to fly a lot.
For me, I go back to something Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said when his team moved from the travel-heavy Western Conference into the easier East: less travel means more days for practice. Ironically, Babcock's Wings barely made it into the playoffs in their first year in the East, but the team did have some pretty bad injuries to overcome, so let's give them a pass on that.
With charter plane travel in the NHL these days, players get to fly in top-notch surroundings and I can't imagine there's much difference in a five-hour flight versus a three-hour flight, even if extrapolated over months. I'm not discounting the notion altogether, but I don't think a lot of physical travel is a death knell.
What I do think may be a factor is back-to-back games. Gus Katsaros of McKeen's Hockey put together a quick chart with some very interesting conclusions. He looked at how many times a franchise would be the "tired" team – playing a second game in two days against an opponent who had not played the day before – and how many times it would be the "rested" team (the opposite).
Subtracting the two numbers, some very interesting results come out. For example, Detroit gets a plus-10 on the season: the Wings will be the rested team 10 more times than they will be the tired team. Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets get the short end of the stick: they're a minus-11 overall.
Here are the easiest five schedules based on this metric:
Los Angeles, +9
New York Rangers, +7
And here are the five most difficult:
Now, it's certainly worth noting that more West Coast teams have "easier" schedules and I'm sure travel was a consideration there, but that doesn't explain Detroit and the Rangers. New York, in fact, travels fewer miles than all but eight other teams, so the Blueshirts win out on both ends. Arizona gets bit on both ends.
While Los Angeles and Anaheim will breeze into the post-season anyways, it is interesting to see bubble squads such as Arizona and Columbus getting rough rides. With so many playoff races coming down to a point or two by the end, might the schedule have an outsized impact on these teams?