Neale Deal schedule could be in cards

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

The National Hockey League's flawed schedule will be on the agenda when the board of governors meetings begin today in Florida and change could be in the wind.

Complaints about the monotony of eight division games continue to echo, as do calls for all 30 teams to play each other at least once a season.

Broadcaster and former NHL coach Harry Neale thinks he has a solution that would address these concerns as well as save rivalries, drop the long schedule by two games per club and let more teams into the playoffs.

The "Neale Deal" as one general manager calls it starts with five divisional matches, with the extra home game alternating between cities each year. That's 20 games, with another 30 created by playing 10 conference opponents three times, again with an alternating odd home game.

A home-and-home with the 15 teams in the other conference makes 30 games for a total of 80, two fewer than the NHL has scheduled the past 10 years.

"To begin with, it's criminal that 10 teams will not see the stars from another conference for two or three years," Neale said. "The league is promoting the hell out of players such as (Washington Capitals') Alexander Ovechkin and they'll hardly see him in the West."

But the most daring part of Neale's idea, one that already was discussed during the lockout, is allowing two extra teams in each conference into the playoffs for a total of 20.

Under Neale's plan, the top two clubs in each division would get in with a first-round bye, while the next four best records are ranked seventh to 10th. They'd play a best-of-three series starting a day or two after the regular season ends and wrapping up by the following mid-week. The two survivors join the top six in a points-based one-to-eight seeding that holds for best-of-seven series for the duration of the playoffs.

One NHL executive attending the meetings thought Neale's plan was worth exploring, but wondered if the governors had an appetite for big changes at this time.

The current scheduling formula has at least another year to run and there are a few teams who enjoy their current travel schedule and competition.

"The GMs looked at the schedule, too (in November) and didn't get very far," the exec said.

"I don't know if the board will be interested in something this (radical)."


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