Friday, July 18, 2008

Road Warriors . . . or Road Kill?

Amid the euphoria of one less Minnesota Mild visit in '07/08 comes a grim reality. The NHL may have returned sanity to the schedule (translation: every team plays every team at least once), but they sure did not do the Canucks any favours.

A quick look at the 2008/09 schedule sees at least four brutal road trips.
After opening the season Oct. 9 at home vs. Calgary, the team is off on a tasty six-game road trip in which they fly to Calgary (Oct. 11), then east to Washington (Oct. 13), Detroit (Oct. 16), Buffalo (Oct. 17)...over to the Central Time Zone to Chicago (Oct. 19)...then back east to Columbus (Oct. 21). In fact, eight of the first 11 games are on the road. The season could be over in month #1.

It gets worse, though. There's a four-game road trip in November with a crazy trip first to New York to play the Isles (Nov. 17) and Rangers (Nov. 19) and then they head across a time zone with no day off to play Minnesota (Nov. 20)...and, you guessed it, back east to play Pittsburgh (Nov. 22) and, as an added bonus, it's a 1 pm start at the Igloo.

A week later they embark on a seven-game trip. Again it starts off in Calgary (Nov. 29) after playing the Lames at home two nights previous. Then it's ping-ponging across time zones as the Nux hit Columbus (Dec. 1), Detroit (Dec. 4), Minnesota again with no day of rest (Dec. 5), Colorado (Dec. 7), Nashville (Dec. 9) and Edmonton (Dec. 13).

In more "Back to the '70s" type road trips continue as February sees a stretch of seven of eight on the road--St. Louis (Feb. 10), Phoenix (Feb. 12), Dallas (Feb. 13) then back home to play what will be virtually a road game given all the Habnot fans who come out of the closet as Montreal is in town (Feb. 15) for the first time since, I think, Rick Chartraw laced 'em up. Then off again to do the Canadian tour of Calgary (Feb. 17), Ottawa (Feb. 19), Toronto (Feb. 21) and Montreal (Feb. 24).

It's not over yet. March brings a six-game set: Phoenix (Mar. 21), Dallas (Mar. 24), St. Louis (Mar. 26), Colorado (Mar. 27), Chicago (Mar. 29) and Minnesota (Mar. 31).

The longest road trip in the previous three seasons was four games. Last season saw a four-gamer in October, a seven-out-of-eight trip bracketed around that Penguins' visit in December and the eight of ten in March trip that did in the Canucks' season. Those three trips ended up in a 7-10-3 record. Given the Nux missed the playoffs by three whole points, you can see where 2008/09 may be a long season given these wicked road trips the benevolent NHL has given the league's westernmost team.

Then again 2006/07 saw the Canucks manage a 12-7-2 record over four "longish" road trips (another four-gamer in October, nine of 11 in November, six of seven in December and also in February).

So enjoy those Make Belief, Hab, Flyer and Lightning visits this season all you who whined about the schedule. The tradeoff seems to be that the Canucks are this season's fodder for some retro experiment in NHL scheduling. (FYI, the number of road trips five games or longer for Calgary and Edmonton--one seven-game trip each!)

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