Schedule snafu means less Leafs

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

You may have noticed quite the buzz in the air Tuesday night at GM Place. The Toronto Maple Leafs might have gone 38 years without winning the Stanley Cup, but that doesn't compromise the level of passion their trips west bring on an annual basis.

Up until now, an annual basis.

Say what you want about the new NHL - scoring is up, there is more flow to the game, there is less clutching and grabbing - you've heard it all. But what the hell was the schedule-maker doing when all these positive changes were being implemented? Does the man not have an atlas or any sense of the game's history in this country?

That Tuesday night game against the Leafs was the last such match-up here for a while.

You may want to phone Ticketmaster and see what's available for their next visit during the 2008-09 season. That is not a misprint.

The Leafs, Canadiens and Senators all play once here this year, along with the other two Northeast Division teams, Boston and Buffalo. Vancouver's away games against the Eastern Conference this year involve the Atlantic Division. They have already played the Rangers and Flyers and face the Devils, Islanders and Penguins on their current road trip. So out of an 82-game schedule, the Canucks play a total of 10 games against Eastern Conference teams. Ridiculous.

Think about what this means to local fans. If Sidney Crosby has a 15-year career, he will play here five times. Ovechkin? Same thing. Or if you simply want to come out and boo the Habs, you'll get only three more chances between now and 2011-12, and that's counting this month's game on the Jan. 1.

The NHL's intent with their scheduling was to create more divisional rivalries. Mission accomplished I suggest, with Vancouver playing eight games against Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado and Minnesota. That is a total of 32 games. As appealing as it may be to see Jarome Iginla, Chris Pronger, Joe Sakic and, uh, Willie Mitchell, I would think a mere six games against each team would suffice.

That would allow for another eight games against, ideally, other Eastern Conference teams.

I might pose a different argument if Sidney Crosby was a member of say, the Flames.

Imagine seeing him 60 times over his 15-year career. But this kid needs to be marketed around the league and not just via Reebok ads. It makes no sense in a league with an 82-game schedule, for Sid the Kid to make the rounds through the Western Conference once every three years.

Vancouver fans may have forgotten what it was like to be on the flip side of this argument. Sharing a division with the Oilers and Flames in the 1980's was not conducive to a healthy won-lost record, but it did give Canuck fans a chance to see Gretzky four times every season. It seems incredible that those Oiler games didn't always sell out, because the Canucks were the league's get-well card and the regular beatings they took at the rink on Renfrew did get tiresome. But in those days, the Oilers would take their show on the road through every Eastern Conference city. Every year.

The guessing now, is that the schedule will be tweaked. Common sense says it will be.

But it might not happen overnight. It is entirely possible the league will let the three years pass, then work on something more balanced. That's a novel concept and better late than never. In the meantime enjoy the work ethic of the Minnesota Wild. We get 11 more visits from them before we see the Leafs again.


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