The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship before the NHL Stanley Cup Final is two games old. Sure, there were different COVID rules, and the NHL eventually adopted the no-sniffles, no test policy well after the NBA, but it’s June 17, and we’re waiting for Game 2. And, the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason is inching, inching forward.
Oh, and the NHL season is just way, way, wayyyyy, toooo long.
Way too long.
Society is changing. Sometimes it is changing faster than any of us even realize. People are too busy for games. They leave early. They stare at their phone while the action continues on the ice. Sure, I’ve been guilty of the phone part, though it’s partly my job.
Has anyone ever said, “Oh, geez, you mean the NHL regular season is almost over already? It feels like it just started!”
However, the COVID-shortened 56-game season featured some of the best regular-season hockey we’ve ever seen. The compacted schedule added urgency to games. We’ll discuss the added values of divisional games and baseball-style series another time.
Now, let’s connect the obvious and neon-flashing dots of the long NHL schedule.
A veteran of 17 NHL seasons, Pittsburgh Penguins center Jeff Carter noticed, too.
“(82-games) was definitely different. After two years of shortened seasons, this one felt a lot different. I think at times throughout the second half, personally, it kind of caught you a little bit,” Carter said on breakup day in May. “I think the coaches and the strength staff and all of them, they do a good job of managing. And I think they understood kind of how it was this year.”
The NHL had record ratings in the 56-game schedule. The Penguins TV ratings topped a 7.0 share. The Penguins TV ratings again topped all NHL teams this season but fell 30% to the mid-5s.
The Penguins’ sellout streak also ended. Coincidentally?
I can already read the comments, “It’s about revenue…”
NHL teams generally don’t make a profit on regular-season games. Perhaps new arena deals, silly parking fees, and beer prices have helped, but most teams are in the middle. They break even, or they lose money in the regular season.
About 40% of the team revenues on the old TV deal came from the gate and concessions. Perhaps when the bean counters finish with this year’s tally, that percentage will drop because of the new TV deal. But hockey still relies on the paying fans giving new jerseys, drinking a beer or three, and parking revenues far more than other sports.
Could we pack more fans into the arena and maybe get a few more dollars per visit if we had fewer games? The TV ratings said people were more interested when there were fewer games. It stands for reason the same would apply to attendance.
The supply and demand curve might meet somewhere between 56 and 82?
Also, high TV ratings mean higher ad revenues. A two-point rating drop again means the optimal supply and demand curve again lies between 56 and 82. Fewer games on TV with higher ratings could indeed net more money than the 82-game season.
Fewer games also mean longer offseasons, fewer injuries, and longer careers.
The biggest argument, besides money, has always been the need to showcase stars in opposing conference cities. What if Sidney Crosby didn’t play in each Western Conference city?
Well…how many of those games were sellouts? Connor McDavid didn’t sell out Pittsburgh, either. In fact, the inter-conference games draw even less interest.
Are they really necessary every season? Fans can see the highlights of the game’s amazing players on their phones daily and watch every game for $5 a month.
Shorten the season, and increase interest.
Of course, I have a better chance of the NHL DoPS retroactively deciding that a defenseman shouldn’t be able to throw forearm shivers to opposing melons.
Pittsburgh Penguins Logjamming
As RFA winger Kasperi Kapanen joked on breakup day, GM Ron Hextall has a few more significant decisions to make before getting to Kapanen.
However, we’re less than one month away from free agency. Hextall is running out of time.
Presumably, Kris Letang is first on the docket as he’ll be the most expensive and difficult to replace. But in short order, Hextall must get a signature on a contract, or cut bait, followed by the same process with Evgeni Malkin, and then decisions on Kapanen, Danton Heinen, followed by readjusting plans for replacements based on salary cap space available.
Trades take time, too. Not many GMs can spin a deal from nothing to Elliotte Friedman’s tweet in less than a week as former GM Jim Rutherford did on occasion.
Finding an RHD on the NHL trade market to replace Kris Letang won’t be easy. There are a couple of names out there, Jeff Petry or Tyson Barrie, but the Penguins aren’t the only team in bright orange bouncing around on the hunt.
Sellers are under no obligation to accept what you or I may think is a fair deal, especially when opposing GMs believe the price will go up as buyers become more desperate.
There’s no hard deadline for any of these decisions, but on July 13 outside influences will get a say on the Penguins’ free agents.
Hextall’s to-do list is getting logjammed and the longer the top decisions take, the less time or control he’ll have over the others. It would seem a Letang or Malkin deal (or no deal) could, or should, come within the next week. If Hextall needs to swing a trade, there isn’t a better opportunity than the NHL Draft on July 7 and 8.