Hockey's Historic Highlights

The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!

Posted October 20, 2013

Viewed 4094 times

"To prevail, the Bruins needed to win the two remaining games in Ottawa, while the Senators needed only to win one. A deadlocked series seemed possible, and the NHL owners were in a jam to know what to do about it. Following their instructions the President warned of the danger of dragging hockey out too long, and ruled there would be no extra games." That scenario sounds very much like what could have occurred when the battle for Lord Stanley's famous mug was staged when grass needed cutting every four days, flowers were blooming, and children were counting the days until the school year ended.

But the cat is out of the bag concerning the era in which shinny icons were getting nervous about the ice game overlapping summer activities, when, two years later, the C.E.O. of those same Bruins, Charles G. Adams, was in a rush to end the Bruin's season, before the baseball season started (he was an investor in the Braves at the time). So, despite the fact that teams had to travel by train, he pushed for back-to-back matches - on March 28-29. Again, here was an effort to make sure the campaign wasn't extended to far. The original scene focused on the 1926-27 NHL post season.

This past season, with the shortened schedule due to the lock-out, it would have been possible, had the Stanley Cup finals gone the full complement of games, to see the NHL season conclude on June 28th In 2013, without an abbreviated schedule, the curtain dropped on major-league shinny on June 11. There's quite a contrast between March 29 and June 24th. But since the series ended 4 games to 2, the finale took place on June 24th.

Complaints about hockey, a winter sport, stretching into summer vacation time, are not new. The March 25, 1930 Pittsburgh Press complained: "The Stanley Cup hockey series, out of which comes the championship team of the NHL, is under way. But it is a question whether it is creating as much interest as anticipated. Many observers believe a mistake is being made in stretching out the season so long. December, January, and February appear to be hockey months. The ice sport flourishes in cold weather, and the post season series would doubtless attract more attention, and prove more successful if it were disposed of before the middle of March.

A Hockey News editorial from June 1948, opined: "Observers of the hockey scene this year can't help but notice the season has been extended more and more until now it is almost a year-round affair." The schedule was then 60 games per season, and hockey's "holy grail" was raised to the rafters on April 14th that spring.

That same year, Toronto Star, in capsule form, griped: "After Wednesdays night when the Gardens air, by the third period start, was as moist and gooey as a small boy's fist, we will restate against continuing hockey far into May!"

In April 1954, the Milwaukie Sentinel echoed those sentiments: "Club owners figure the more games the better their chance of finishing in the black - a mistake of pro hockey. It would be better if they shortened the season at both ends and played less games in the process of priming for the playoffs."

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix put it in perspective when it noted "This is overlapping time - the silly season in sports. Hockey playoffs, the opening of the major leagues in baseball, and the signing of football players share the spotlight."

In 1968, the Quebec Chronicle Telegraph revealed that "Even President Clarence Campbell has admitted the season is dragged out too long, and that a meeting would be called to discuss the matter." At that time the teams played 74 games, and the season ended on May 11.

But, as expected, nothing came of the promise. In 1975, Buffalo defenseman Jim Schoenfeld declared that "Playing hockey on May 29th is crazy! It would be better if the playoffs ended when baseball is beginning." By then the schedule was 78-games long, with the championship decided on May 27th would have been on the 29th )

Perhaps the ridiculousness of the whole scene is betrayed by an experience of one-time NHL Public Relations chief, Ron Andrews. In June 1977 he received a letter which he called the "second strangest one he ever received!" It was sent by Keith P. Puddenham of Hertfordshire in England. It read: "Will be in arriving in Canada on July 19th like to get tickets to ANY hockey game being played on July 23rd ."

This prevailing opinion made headlines every decade. In August 1982, the Regina Leader-Post shot from the hip with: "A common feeling exists that the hockey season is too long. O.K.! So it might be sacrilegious to criticize our national pastime - but yes - the feeling does exist! The complaints are justified when one considers the season begins in mid-September and extends until late May."

Following the strike/lockout during the 1994-95 campaign, Claude Lemieux maintained that the "players liked (the shorter 48 game schedule) because every game was like a playoff game. This meant being geared up to play all the time, whereas in an 82 game format losing a few didn't matter that much! It would be better if the NHL went that route (a 48 game schedule)."

The wind of unrest over the length of hockey schedules continued well into the New Millennium. In January, 2004, Peter Young, who authors the "Sports Rant and Rave", practically shouted: "Give us a break! The seasons are way, way too long! Whatever happened to the off-season in sports? Hockey players had long summers, and baseball players hibernated like bears in the winter. We (the fans) recharged our batteries for the next season. Nowadays, pro sports might as well run year round!"

The Associated Press echoed those same sentiments, acknowledging that "the season is so long, teams are back in training camp less than three months after the Stanley Cup final had ended. Staying in shape has become an all-year routine."

Over the years several players have aped Schoenfeld's stance. Teammate Don Luce, Scott Stevens, Paul Kayria, and Steve Yzerman are others who have voiced their disapproval of the marathon-like scheduling into which they and their peers funneled.

As recently as May, 2013, the Chicago Tribune laid it on the line: "Traditionalists say it's terribly wrong to have hockey played when temperatures are in the 80's and 90's in May and June. Going to games should mean parkas, boots, and flying snow, not flip flops!"

On the heels of that declaration, former netminder, Kelly Hrudey, said of the most recent work stoppage: "There are plenty of aspects about (the shorten season), all glued to a heightened intensity that the 82- game format is too long".

At the risk of being accused of further beating a well-battered drum, the point made by the AP cannot be overlooked in listing the pros and cons of this issue. While skaters in the Original Six era may have had to take off-season employment to make ends meet, at least they were spared to the physical regimen dumped on modern players. With the not-so- subtle demand to continue to "train to be in condition when camp opens", well paid or not, players today virtually have no time off between sessions. As many who are in the know claim, these wearying demands invite injuries.

But the prosecution rests its case! With his overwhelming evidence that at least moderately-shortened schedules would make sense, why hasn't it happened?

The April 3, 1973 issue of the Spokane Daily Chronicle summed it up in this editorial: "Owners of pro sports teams contend that because of the big salaries they have to pay athletes, now they need a season as long as possible to make expenses and a little profit!" In other words - it's all about the almighty dollar!

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