SUN Hockey Pool

Lawyers who run NHL know very little about league

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

For the only time in three seasons, the Maple Leafs are travelling through western Canada.

The people who run the National Hockey League from New York have no problem with that.

Canadians have a problem with it, but that doesn't matter much on the Avenue of the Americas.

As Canadians know, the Leafs represent a bizarre phenomenon. More than any other, they are Canada's team.

They have huge support wherever they go and are perceived as the team that best represents the sport's heritage.

Most countries have a team of this nature -- the New York Yankees in the United States, Manchester United in England, the All Blacks in New Zealand, and so on.

NOTHING LATELY

But the reason the Leafs' vaunted status is bizarre is they haven't won anything in almost 40 years.

Nevertheless, most Canadians understand this phenomenon and accept it.

It is a fact of hockey life.

Those who don't accept it usually do so because they think such an elevated status belongs to the Montreal Canadiens.

But the Canadiens, thanks to those people in New York, also will visit western Canada just once every three years.

If there is one specific person to blame for this, it is Lou Lamoriello, supreme ruler for life of the New Jersey Devils.

It long has been Lamoriello's firm belief that hockey's lack of acceptance in the United States was due in large part to the lack of rivalries.

And the best way to build these rivalries, he holds, is to increase the number of divisional games.

So with the support of his close friend Gary B. Bettman, the NHL commissioner, Lamoriello was able to get his wish.

It was decreed that every team would play its divisional rivals eight times each season. And to provide a form of backup rivalries, each team has to play every team in its conference four times.

For those who don't like arithmetic, we'll do the multiplication. To this point we've accounted for 72 games.

Still with us?

With an 82-game schedule in place, that leaves 10 games. So the whiz kids in New York decided that each team would visit one non-conference division and host one other.

They had a couple of underlying reasons. First of all, they're lawyers, so they naturally lean to a formula that is perceived as being equal for all -- although, of course, it is no such thing. The other reason is that they don't know enough about hockey to work out a better concept.

The better answer, as was suggested to Bettman some years back, is to have a bunch of "wild-card" games.

Play the 72 according to Lamoriello's formula if you want, but then add 10 games based upon traditional rivalries.

For Lamoriello's division, with the New York and Pennsylvania teams, you could keep the system that is to be in place this year.

But for the Canadian teams, you would add more head-to-head games.

In the other cases, the New York moguls would have to find out what is happening in the rest of their league and devise a schedule accordingly.

The Detroit Red Wings, for instance, have established rivalries with Chicago and Toronto.

Lately, Colorado has joined that list.

The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings have recently developed a degree of healthy animosity. St. Louis and Chicago have a long history of mutual dislike. The two Florida teams are natural geographical rivals.

And so on.

Furthermore, each year, rivalries are created during the playoffs. Therefore, teams that faced each other in the post-season could meet with increased frequency the subsequent season.

This would be a much better system than the one the NHL has put in place.

But for it to happen, someone in the New York office would have to understand his own league.

So we'll be stuck with the present system for the foreseeable future.


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