Although none of the Vancouver Canucks players know for certain how the new regime in the Pacific Division will affect their playoff hopes after years of feasting on Northwest Division lightweights, the consensus among them is that NHL realignment is a move in the right direction.
Not only will the Canucks see more of the three California teams—thus playing more games in the Pacific time zone and enjoying a reduced travel burden—the players are excited about the NHL’s long-overdue return to a full interlocking schedule. This means that during the course of an 82-game season, every team will face every other team, home and away, at least once.
It’s a move that’s important for left-winger David Booth, now that his hometown Detroit Red Wings have shifted to the Eastern Conference. Booth is entering his eighth NHL season, and because of injury, illness, and an imbalanced schedule during the past decade, he has had only one chance to play in front of family and friends in the Motor City.
“I’ve played in there once in my career—the city I’d like to play in the most with all my relatives there,” he tells the Georgia Straight in an interview after a Canucks practice at Rogers Arena. “It’s crazy how that’s worked out; it’s quite comical, in some ways. But I think it’s cool that we’re going to every rink. I like going to different cities once a year. I like that idea.”
And Booth is not alone. Dale Weise feels the same way about the fact that the Canucks will finally go to his hometown, Winnipeg, for the first time—three years after the Jets returned to the NHL. The Canucks will visit the Manitoba capital twice (January 31 and March 12), as the right-winger noted when he first glanced at the schedule upon its release in the summer.
“I think it’s amazing,” Weise says. “It’s not overtaxing for every team to go play everybody. And it’s great for the fans, and the fans run our game. They’re the reason we play and why guys do so well [financially]. I think it’s great that guys like myself get to play in Winnipeg every year. I’m ecstatic. I played there once in the American Hockey League, but it’s such a different scale to play an NHL game there. I grew up there watching the Jets as a young kid, but they left when I was really young. That will be a chance for all my friends and family to come, and I think that will just be awesome for everybody.”
Defenceman Dan Hamhuis won’t ever get a chance to play a league game in his hometown, but the Smithers, B.C., native is onboard with the league’s plan to have all teams play in all buildings again, the way they did when he broke into the NHL 10 years ago.
And Hamhuis thinks it’s particularly important that fans in a hockey market like Vancouver get a chance to see the brightest stars in the league each season.
“We have to work a little harder for it with the extra travel, but it’s great for our fans to see all the Eastern Conference players,” he says. “A guy like Sidney Crosby’s been hurt a little bit in the past, and our fans haven’t seen him play in four or five years. He’s the top-rated player in the league, so it’s great for our fans to see him and [Alexander] Ovechkin and all the big stars in the East. And for us, it’s fun to travel around and see all the teams and all the different cities and rinks in the league. To get to go to places like New York and Florida, it’s always fun on and off the ice.”
No one’s sure just how much fun new head coach John Tortorella will have adjusting to life on the West Coast and the hectic travel schedule forced upon teams like the Canucks, but even he agrees with the league’s decision to revert to the full interlock.
With the lockout last season limiting teams to conference play only, his New York Rangers left the eastern time zone just once (for a game in Winnipeg), and the luxury of sleeping in their own beds was common after road games against the nearby New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Boston Bruins.
The travel out here will certainly be an adjustment for Tortorella, but he knows it’s the price to be paid to create the best possible schedule for the league.
“I do think you need to touch all teams,” he says of visiting the 29 other rinks in the NHL. “I think for the fans it’s good, and I think it gives teams a better assessment of where they sit at the end of the year when you’ve played all the other teams. I’m not the one that goes through all the travel and the expenses involved, but as a hockey guy, I want to play all of the other teams.”
Tortorella will get his wish and will soon begin the process of finding out how his Vancouver Canucks stack up against each and every one of the other teams in the league. A new home in the Pacific Division will likely prove a stiff challenge to the Canucks and their hopes for a sixth straight division title.
Even if the team doesn’t capture the crown, though, its fans will still come away winners. Not everything the NHL does is with the best interests of the paying customers in mind, but with a return to the old-style schedule, the league definitely got this one right.