Jeff Paterson: breaking down the schedule
At last, at long last, players, coaches, management, the media and hockey fans everywhere can plan the foreseeable future.
The Vancouver Canucks schedule has been released for the 2013 National Hockey League season and, simply put, it’s a whole lot of hockey squeezed into a relatively short span of time.
From opening night on January 19th through the final night of the compressed regular season, the Canucks will play 48 games in 99 days. That doesn’t leave much time for rest or practice. It’s going to be a steady diet of games basically every other night until the second season – the quest for the Stanley Cup -- begins in early May.
With a premium placed on a quick start and the need to get out in front of the pack, the Canucks open with three straight at Rogers Arena January 19th against Anaheim, the following night against Edmonton and January 23rd when the Calgary Flames come calling.
The Canucks then head south for a California adventure that sees them go to Anaheim on January 25th, up to San Jose on the 27th and back down to Los Angeles for a game the following night. It’s not the usual way to tour the Golden State, but then again, nothing is usual about the 2013 NHL season. The bonus for the Canucks as they try to hit the ground running is that they don’t leave the Pacific time zone for the first two and a half weeks of the season, so they won’t be travel weary in the early going.
The most-difficult stretch of the schedule looks like it will come from the middle to the end of March when the Canucks are slated to play 12 games in a 21 night stretch. It’s a part of their schedule that will see them play in all four NHL time zones and will take them as far as east as Columbus as far north as Edmonton and as far south as Los Angeles. There are also stops in Minnesota, Colorado and Phoenix to go along with six home games during that span. Toss in the first week of April and the math becomes 15 games in 28 nights with a quick trip to San Jose and a couple of home games added to the mix.
Another challenging portion of the schedule comes in late February when the Canucks play four road games in six days. Those types of trips are not new to Vancouver hockey teams, but the Canucks start their odyssey in Chicago on February 19th and then go back-to-back in Dallas and Nashville on the 21st and 22nd before finishing with a late afternoon game in Detroit on the 24th. They play four in six on the road again in March when they make stops in Denver, Nashville, St. Louis and Dallas before hustling home to face Detroit and Chicago.
The longest stretch the Canucks will sit idle at any point in the shortened season is when they get – gasp! – three absolutely unencumbered days off February 27th and 28th along with March 1st before hosting the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on March 2nd. Otherwise, the Canucks have eight two-day gaps in their schedule and beyond that, it’s pretty much hockey every other night from now until the end of April.
As months go, March is the busiest for the Canucks with 16 games on their schedule followed by April with 13 and February with 12. Because of the late start, January has just seven contests. Saturday is the busiest day of the week with 10 of the team’s 48 games slated for the first day of the weekend followed closely by Thursday which will see the Canucks suit up on eight occasions. And while the Canucks play seven Sunday games this season, they don’t play any in April and yet they are scheduled to face-off on all four Mondays in the final month of the season.
The earliest start time on the Canucks schedule is a noon Pacific puck drop in Colorado on April 13th. They are also slotted in to play a 1 pm game in Los Angeles on March 23rd. Manny Malhotra will likely get a chance to see his brother-in-law Steve Nash play the night before as the LA Lakers host Washington at Staples Centre. And Nash may have the opportunity to see his favourite hockey team play in person the following afternoon as the Lakers are off then, but play the following night up the coast in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
Basketball players dealt with compressed schedules last season due to their labour impasse. Now it’s the hockey guys who get back to work and won’t have a chance to collect their breaths until the end of April. The reward for the 16 top teams in the regular season is the chance to line-up and get right back at it for as many as 28 more games with a shot to hoist the ultimate prize.
The schedule is out. All 30 NHL teams know they’ll be dealing with a different set of circumstances this year.
The schedule is out. At last, at long last, let the games begin.