The NHL announced on Monday that the league will realign next season, and no team can be happier about the change than the Dallas Stars. Trapped in the Pacific Division for years, the commissioner stepped up and came up with a plan that makes sense.
This helps Dallas immensely, but it really helps the entire league. Minnesota is another team than benefits greatly.
First of all, it means that every team will play in every arena every year. This is something that fans have wanted for a long time, especially in the west so that they can see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, among others, every year.
The Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Canadiens and Capitals will all come to Dallas, as will all other 29 teams.
Rivalries? It gets no better than the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Blues for the Stars, and don’t forget Minnesota. The league should rename this conference the Norris since they’ve gotten the band back together. With plenty of regular season games once again between these teams and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the phrase “hated Red Wings” will take on a new meaning.
Travel reductions will be a huge plus, something we will get into below.
To understand how good this new realignment plan really is for the Stars, one can look at the how Dallas has had it over the years while playing in the wrong division:
Playing a Majority of Road Games Outside of Your Time Zone
By far, the biggest issue the Stars face by playing in the Pacific Division is time zones. Dallas is the only team in the league that plays over 80% of its divisional road games two times zones behind. That trans¬lates into too many western trips that create difficult travel (to and from) during a long 82-game schedule. No other team in the league faces the travel challenges that are inflicted on Dallas from a mileage and time zone perspective.
Dallas has a clear disadvantage to its Pacific Division rivals, conference and the entire league. Making Dallas play in the Pacific increases the number of games played two time zones away and the number of nights that the team stays in a hotel.
Competitive Disadvantages: Time Zones, Jet Lag and Increased Mileage
The Stars have led the league in divisional games played two time zones away over the last 13 seasons, with only Minnesota qualifying for appropriate comparison:
|Dallas vs. Minnesota: Division Time Zone Difficulty |
|Teams ||Division Games Played Two Time Zones Away |
All other NHL teams combined
Flying back home from the West Coast after division road trips forces Dallas to often stay an extra night and miss practice time and medical treatments at appropriate team facilities in an effort to minimize jet lag. A comparison to the St. Louis Blues, who play in Dallas’ former Central Division with 100% of their division games close to home:
- In order to manage and minimize the effect of time zone travel, Dallas is forced to take long extended trips out west because of its geographic location to its division while most of the league is able to mix in one-game trips within its division throughout the year.
- Most teams in the league are similar to St. Louis – their division is close to home which enables them to take quick one-game trips in which they can travel back home on the same night, get home at a decent hour and sleep in their own bed. Dallas does not have this luxury in the Pacific Division; in fact, it is quite the opposite.
- Most of the Stars’ one-game trips are to Central Division teams, who are closer on the map to Dallas, a reason that the Stars were originally in this division. The Stars do not take any one-game trips within the Pacific; every other team in the league takes one-game trips within its respective division (another indication that the Stars should not be in the Pacific).
- For divisional trips, in order to avoid arriving home post-game at 4:30 am from the Pacific Division, Dallas must often stay in the away city for an extra night and fly home the next day, adding ad¬ditional travel cost and eliminating potential practice time (this took place six separate times last season, adding up to almost a complete week of possible practice times that were squandered).
A look at the current divisional alignments in the Western Conference (with each team’s cumulative division¬al opponent travel distances):
|Divisional Travel Comparison: Western Conference |
|Central Division ||Northwest Division ||Pacific Division |
|Nashville (1,451) |
St. Louis (1,365)
|Minnesota (4,293) |
|Dallas (4,805) |
San Jose (2,694)
Los Angeles (1,920)
- For each of the last 13 years, Dallas has had the biggest cumulative travel load within its division (4,805 miles) of any team in the NHL.
- The divisional placement in the Pacific basically guaranteed that Dallas would rank in the top three of the entire league every year for most miles traveled (ranks vary between 1-3 by year).
- The Stars are closer to six other NHL teams than its closest divisional rival (Phoenix), with three of those teams residing in the Central Division. Anaheim and LA are the 17th and 18th teams closest to Dallas, respectfully, while only five NHL teams are further away than San Jose.
The time zones, jet lag and increased mileage all combine to cause a cumulative effect of fatigue on this hockey club that no other NHL team experiences.
Despite the best efforts of league personnel to mitigate Dallas’ travel issues, the Stars are at a disadvan¬tage with respect to the League scheduling ‘Fatigue Standards’, specifically as they relate to the following:
The Stars often will have a day off when returning from a road trip before the next home game, as most of the league does. But since Dallas must stay on the west coast an extra night because of the time zones, playing a home game on the day following a flight home from the west is equivalent to a ‘back-to-back’ game from a physiological fatigue standpoint. Dallas often finds itself in this circumstance, yet gets no fatigue credit from league schedule makers.
Every team has 3-Games-in-4-Night stretches on their schedule. But a disproportionate number of Dallas’ ‘3-in-4’ game segments are on the road against its divisional rivals, primarily because of the geographic distance. Dallas cannot play ‘home-and-home’ and/or one-game trips within its division. By virtue of its massive mileage burden and multiple time zone transit, Dallas is, from a probability standpoint, most often the tired team (even when they are not given credit as such).Cost
Dallas’ high mileage and multiple time zone travel results in very high travel (charter airplane, fuel, etc.) and accommodation (hotel, per diem) costs. Dallas has consistently found itself at the top of the NHL travel cost rankings for the last 13 years. We are taking money that could be tactically rein¬vested into more productive areas instead of paying for disproportionate travel expenses.Television
One third (34%) of the Stars’ away game television inventory commences broadcasting at 9:00 p.m. (Dallas time) at the earliest, and typically end between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. Nearly half (20 of 41 games) of Dallas’ away game broadcast inventory start at least 1 hour behind our local time zone. This has a crushing effect on the economics of the team’s current and future broadcast efforts. Ratings are negatively impacted, thusly hurting the Stars’ negotiating leverage with respect to both future broadcast rights agreements and individual advertising opportunities.
TV ratings for Dallas Stars games on FOX Sports Southwest over the last two seasons are a com¬bined 23% lower for road games played in the Pacific Time Zone as opposed to games played in the Central or Eastern Time Zones.
Did you get all of that? There will be a test later.
It’s great news that Dallas will be playing in a new realigned NHL next season. Now forgive us – it’s time to jump on another airplane to California. Go Stars!