Saturation point

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:41 PM ET

It's one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

But, like Godfather III, AMC Pacers and eating a tequila worm, the NHL's divisionally-weighted schedule is a big mistake.

Everybody knows what the league was shooting for when it decided divisional opponents should play each other eight times - intense rivalries that bring blood to a boil and fans to their feet - but it's not happening.

New rules and a zero tolerance mandate on enforcement, while opening the ice for speed and talent, have transformed the NHL into shinny and special teams.

"The game is different,'' said Colorado's Brad May, who misses the rough stuff as much as anybody. "Clearly everybody sees it and recognizes it.''

Save for a few ugly incidents involving Sean Avery and Denis Gauthier, intensity is virtually extinct and hitting is an endangered species.

The games are the same no matter who's playing - fast, free-flowing and relatively passive - so how does it serve Oilers fans to see Colorado, Vancouver, Minnesota and Calgary 32 times a winter and never getting a single glimpse of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Simon Gagne or Eric Staal?

How does it serve Colorado's fans to play Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in 14 of their first 26 games?

"It's unbelievable,'' said Avs defenceman Rob Blake. "It seems like these are the only teams we play against. And we haven't played against Minnesota yet, we still have eight games with them left.''

Mmmmmmm. Eight with Minnesota. Start the Pacer and pass the worm, we're going to Godfather III.

"We have to deal with what there is,'' said Vancouver head coach Marc Crawford.

"To be honest with you, my own personal preference is yes, I'd like to see (Eastern) teams a little bit more, but I understand what the league is doing and I understand that intra- divisional play is a good thing.''

This weekend marks the start of what limited inter-conference play there is when Edmonton plays the first of five in a row against Eastern clubs.

Then, in January, they'll play five more, and that's it. Ten games. As part of an annual rotation, no Atlantic Division teams come to Edmonton this year and the Oilers won't play any Southeast Division teams at all.

Ethan Moreau, like so many players, is getting a little sick of Groundhog Day.

"It'll be a refreshing change to play someone else,'' he said after Thursday's no-hitter with Vancouver. "Eight games against one team can be counterproductive; it's almost like they've saturated it. It used to be a really big deal when you played Calgary, but it's not as much anymore because you're playing them all the time. It's not an event. The emotional level isn't going to be there every time. It's not going to be fight night.''

Not in the new NHL. The Oilers played Colorado, Vancouver and Calgary 10 times already and you could count the rough stuff on one hand. So why not play a few more games against the Penguins, Leafs, Rangers, Canes and Flyers instead? "Absolutely,'' said Moreau. "I couldn't agree more.''

Neither could Marty Turco.

"There's lots of guys and some talented players I just miss being able to see,'' said the Dallas keeper, whose team will play 57 of its 82 games in Texas, California and Arizona. "Especially having the year off.''

Crawford says the schedule hits true hockey fans the hardest.

"In Canadian cities we follow the NHL so well that it really hurts that we don't get to see the eastern teams at least once,'' he said.

"But I don't think it's the case in the States. So it's a big juggling act for Gary Bettman ... He's put a lot of thought into it and he'll see how this goes - see if it ends up being the right thing for the league.''

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T'S TOP FIVE

Top five other Dick Pound suspicions about the NHL:

1:The New Jersey Devils know exactly where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

2: Have you ever seen the Columbus Blue Jackets play? Those guys must be munching Valium by the handful.

3: Steve Moore faked his injuries and is living in France with Jim Morrison.

4: How come you never see Gary Bettman and The Count from Sesame Street in the same room?

5: The people who designed the Coyotes' original jersey and came up with the nickname Mighty Ducks were high on something, man.

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T'S TEAM OF THE WEEK

LW- MARK PARRISH (ISLANDERS): Six points in his last three games against Eastern heavies.

C- JASON WILLIAMS (RED WINGS): Six points in his

last four games from the second line.

RW- BRIAN GIONTA (DEVILS): Plus-four with six points for the smallest guy in the NHL.

LD- MATHIEU SCHNEIDER (RED WINGS): Four goals and one assist on a lukewarm team.

G- MARTIn BIRON (SABRES): Posts four straight wins as the backbone of Buffalo's recent turnaround (1.73 GAA)

RD- NICK LIDSTROM (RED WINGS): A goal and four assists in three games, as well as playing 28 minutes a night.

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T'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK

" There are some Jerry Springers there as far as the media are concerned.''

- Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella.

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THEY SAID IT

- From the Palm Beach Post first quarter report cards: "Alexander Karpovtsev: Reported to camp out of shape. Didn't seem to mind being a healthy scratch in 15 games. A waste of $760,000. F.''

- Defenceman Pavel Kubina had 17 goals in Tampa's Stanley Cup run, but didn't get his first of this season until this week: "From now on,'' he said, "I want to be referred to as a defensive defenceman.''

- "It's not a case of you won four in a row, you're leading the league in a number of different categories, but you stunk the joint out last night so we'll see you in Greenville,'' Craig MacTavish on how Mike Morrison won't get buried in the ECHL if he has a bad game.


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