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Players excited by new scheduling format

by Dan Rosen /
New York Rangers center Scott Gomez felt something was amiss with the NHL scheduling format. Things had seemed to become routine.

"Maybe playing inter-division rivals so much took the flair out of it," Gomez said.

You can count Gomez among the overwhelming majority of residents inside the NHL community who are downright giddy over the League's new scheduling format, which limits inter-division rivalry games and promotes League-wide competition.

"Maybe the old one backfired," Gomez said in reference to the former scheduling format that saw teams play 32 inter-divisional games, 72 within the conference and only 10 out of conference. "With guys like (Sidney) Crosby and (Alex) Ovechkin, to promote our League, everybody has to see those guys."

And now players and fans will get that opportunity.

Under the new scheduling format, which the League's Board of Governors approved last November, teams will play each club in their division six times as opposed to eight. They still will play the 10 other clubs in their respective conference four times, but that means only 64 games will come against teams from their own conference.

The remaining 18 games in the 82-game schedule will involve each club playing all 15 teams in the other conference at least once, and some playing each other twice.

"Having 18 games against the East instead of 10 is something our fans and players are really looking forward to," Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. "I think six inter-division games is probably plenty."

Brian Lawton, Tampa Bay's Vice President of Hockey Operations, said anybody could formulate arguments for and against playing more games against traditional rivals, "but every team has marketable players nowadays and I think the fans enjoy seeing everybody. To see them in person is enticing. It's going to enhance our League and our business."

For fans of the Red Wings, that means a pair of games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, last year's Stanley Cup finalist. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come to Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 11, while the Wings go to Pittsburgh on Feb. 8.

Meanwhile, along with their trip to Pittsburgh, the Stanley Cup champs will take their show into Ottawa, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, Boston, Washington, Atlanta and Buffalo.

"Our fans love it," Holland said.

Crosby was a rookie the last time Pittsburgh toured the Central Division cities, but this season he and Malkin, who never has played a regular-season game in a Central Division arena, will play in all five while adding stops in San Jose, Phoenix, Colorado and Dallas.

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero expects a warm reception for his superstars.

"I still look back on a couple of trips last year when we went to Minnesota, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and the excitement to watch Sid was really good," Shero said. "The coverage was incredible. He enjoyed it as well."

Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals last played on the West Coast in 2005-06, but this season they're going back to play all five Pacific Division teams while also playing games in Calgary, Minnesota, Columbus and Nashville.

Jarome Iginla figures to be a major draw for Eastern markets New York, Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta, New Jersey, Toronto and Pittsburgh.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will play their first game in Madison Square Garden on Oct. 9. Fans in Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Florida and New Jersey also will get to see Chicago's dynamic duo live for the first time.

"It gets a little tiring playing the same guys so many times, so when you get an opportunity to get some different looks at the competition around the NHL it makes it exciting for everyone," New York Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky said. "I'm pretty familiar with most of the players just because I watch a lot of hockey, but I'm curious about other buildings, other atmospheres and other cities."

"Having 18 games against the East instead of 10 is something our fans and players are really looking forward to. I think six inter-division games is probably plenty." -- Red Wings GM Ken Holland

Fans in the Canadian markets get a treat this season as all six of Canada's teams will play each other at least twice. Every Canadian team will visit the other five cities, which hasn't happened since 2003-04.

"The Canadian fans love that," Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips said. "They get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing Canadian teams play each other. It's great for the game up there that we are able to do a home and away this year."

Phillips said the ideal scenario would be for every team in the League to play each other home and away. For now, though, he and the rest of the NHL community welcome this new scheduling format with open arms.

"The fans pay a lot of money to watch the best players play and now they'll have an opportunity to do that," Dallas co-GM Les Jackson said. "It's the best thing for our game. I know everyone is looking forward to it."

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