When the NHL released its schedule yesterday, I can't say I was jumping for joy. The Buffalo Sabres open against the New York Islanders on Oct. 5. Last season ('03-04, for those that have lost track), the Isles demolished the Sabres 6-0 on opening night at HSBC Arena. And we didn't beat Michael Peca and his crew a single time in the four meetings that season, either. The last time the Sabres defeated the Isles was Oct. 10, 2002. Ironically, that was also opening night.
Besides the "joy" of playing Boston, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto eight times a piece, Sidney Crosby will visit Buffalo twice -- Oct. 10 and Dec. 17. The later date conflicts with a Bills/Broncos home game.
If previous years mean anything, the Sabres, Canadians and Islanders will fight for the seventh and eight spot in the East the last month of the season. Buffalo plays Montreal in twice in the last four games of the season (Apr. 12 and 15)
Lucky for the Sabres, the change in inter-conference play means only one, three-game swing to the west coast (Jan. 16-21). No more seven-game road trips where every game ends at midnight or later.
More interesting points of the Sabres schedule from The Buffalo News:
"January will be interesting for the Sabres. The month begins with the last five games of a season-long seven-game home stretch but ends with a season-long, six-game road trip. From Jan. 16 to 31, the Sabres will travel to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Manhattan, Toronto and Atlanta.
The whirlwind happens at a good time because the Sabres will have a chance to recover in February, when there are only six games, including four at home. ...
The home stretch will be a furious one for the Sabres.
Their last nine games include seven Northeast Division games, including three against the Maple Leafs."
While Sabres fans look at the schedule, knowing it will tough but fun to play divisional rivals eight times, Red Wings fans are shaking their heads at the joy of Columbus, Nashville and Chicago eight times a season. The Detroit News:
' "It's an absolute joke," said David Miller, a 25-year season-ticket holder from West Bloomfield. "It used to be that there were games you wouldn't give up your tickets for, regular-season games you looked forward to.
"That isn't the case anymore." ...
How far has the NHL gone to stress divisional rivalries? Consider this: The Wings play at Columbus on Oct. 22 and Oct. 24, followed by three consecutive games against Chicago."
Hey, I'm glad it's not my team. And I never said I was thrilled about the new divisional-rivalry set-up. It will burn teams in tough divisions like the Northeast and Northwest, while benefiting good teams in the Southeast and Central divisions.
Red Wings fans were also mad that Joe Louis Arena will see four of the six original teams -- Boston, Montreal, New York and Toronto -- only every three years. So much for tradition.
However, the article also mentioned that a change in the playoff format -- which hasn't been announced yet -- could be the reason behind the schedule changes:
"There has been some speculation that the NHL will take the top two teams in each division, along with the next two best records, into the conference playoffs.
The current system takes the three division winners and the next five best records.
"If it's the top two teams (in the division), I can understand all the divisional play (in the regular season schedule)," Holland said. "It's a race within your division." '
In my opinion, this is even worse. Can you imagine taking two teams from EVERY division? And think of all of the teams that would be left out of the playoffs with more points. See: Carolina Hurricanes repeatedly making playoffs due to weak division.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
- Bob Goodenow steps down. Can't say I'm surprised. The players basically went over him to make the CBA deal since he was completely against a salary cap.
- The return of the Dominator. Toronto Star:
"Ottawa Senators GM John Muckler liked what he heard from Dominik Hasek when the two talked recently.
"I could hear that passion in his voice," Muckler said during a conference call yesterday. "He's on a mission and he wants to prove that he can become an elite player again." '
Great, eight times a year.
- Why Jack Johnson should go second in this Saturday's draft. No one is talking about anything but Sidney Crosby, but Johnson's a tough, solid-built defenseman with a good shot. I'm glad he's playing for the Wolverines this season, especially since goalie Al Montoya finally left to join the Rangers.