Tambellini should follow the lead of Mike Gillis

Jonathan Willis
January 24 2009 10:00AM

Browsing through TSN yesteryday, I couldn’t help but notice an item on Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis complaining about his team’s travel schedule. The interesting thing about this particular story isn’t that Gillis is complaining, but that the league is doing something about it:

"I think we have a great chance. In fact, we've got a draft in place for about 38 of our road games for next season already, which is unheard of. They made us a number one priority in terms of travel for a variety of reasons. One of them is injury history, crossing borders, and the fact that geographically, we don't have a team within a couple or three hours of us. We feel really good about their understanding now, and that they're prepared to work with us to get a better road schedule in place.”

Apparently, the league’s new-found willingness to accommodate the Canucks stems from a program that the Canucks instituted this season:

Thoughts that changing time-zones and length of road trips took a physical toll have been around for years but now the Canucks have proof. The club took a very close look at their schedule for the 2008-09 season with some interesting results. "When we did the Fatigue Management Program this year, those guys predicted where we would have a real problem," explained Canucks general manager Mike Gillis to Team1040 radio in Vancouver.

I’m not about to go as far as the TSN article does, blaming the Canucks recent six-game losing streak on their travel demands (although I would suggest that Gillis is doing a good job creating a distraction from some of the actual problems with his team, so good on him). Still, travel is undoubtedly a factor.

Many of the fans commenting on the TSN article ridicule Gillis for “whining” and “making excuses”, but all it takes are two functioning brain cells and a map to figure out that the teams in the West, and especially the three Canadian teams have some geography issues. The Oilers have one team within 1000 miles. The Canucks have none. Contrast that with a typical Eastern Conference team, like Philadelphia. The furthest they need to travel within their own conference is to Tampa Bay, just over 1000 miles away. Over an 82-game season, the varying mileages of these teams add up.

Compare the Oilers to the Rangers, for example. The Rangers started their season in Europe, so one might imagine that they have more travel miles than the Oilers. Far from it -- in fact the Edmonton Oilers will log over 15,000 miles more in travel than the Rangers this season. That figure jumps to 20,000 miles when compared to the Islanders. What about Vancouver? Vancouver travels 1,265 miles more than the Oilers over the course of this season.

So, rather than question whether Mike Gillis has something to complain about, perhaps we should be asking whether Steve Tambellini shouldn’t be following his lead.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Hockey Gods
January 24 2009, 11:40AM
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I have always wondered why the NHL didn't follow a similar conference breakdown as other major sports, like NFL and MBL for example. MLB has the American and National league to split the league in half, but it isn't done geogrphically (Toronto and Montreal where in different leagues). Similarly the NFL has the AFC and the NFC broken down the same.

If the NHL were to do this with their conferences yet still geographically based division within the connferances it would go a long way in leveling the playing field. Yes the western Canadian teams would still have a more greuling travel schedule, but Philly would then have to travel west and out of their timezone more often.

Another option might be to change from and eastern/western confereance to northern/southern conferance. Again this way all teams would be more like to travel outside their time-zones.

The fact remains FA's or veteran players will always be less likely to come out west even if Lauren Pronger loved it, just because of the travel demands. So something should be done to make it fair.

Good Read Willis

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#2 Ssseth
January 24 2009, 12:23PM
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Some good points. Every time I see that map it really puts things in perspective.

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#3 Deans
January 24 2009, 03:42PM
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The only solution I can think of is having nhl divisions that aren't organized based on geographical location. Unfortunatly this doesnt make any economic sense. Other then a few minor tweaks to the road schedule there aren't any atractive alternatives to the current schedule. Western Canadian hockey fans are just going to have to live with it.

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#4 Jonathan Willis
January 24 2009, 04:07PM
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One thing the NHL could do is schedule fewer back-to-back games for the Western Conference teams; that would help even the playing field a bit.

Other than that, I like that they've re-emphasized inter-conference play (every team at least once a year), but maybe they could cut down on inter-conference games and play more divisional matches. Say:

15 games - 1 game against each team in the other conference

20 games - home and home with each team in their conference but outside the division

40 games - ten games against each team in the division

and then toss the remaining seven games on to the conference schedule.

The problem of course is that I don't know if we'd want to see that many inter-divisional games, and weaker divisions would look much stronger than they were, so maybe something more balanced is in order.

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#5 Celebral
January 24 2009, 06:36PM
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Perhaps time has come for Western teams to have less games played than Eastern teams as a method of cutting travel expenses. To make up for games-played shortfall in the schedule, statistically-based computer-generated results could be incorporated into the official standings.

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#6 RLH
January 24 2009, 08:51PM
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Give Seattle a team! You listening there, NHL? No? Well screw you too. It wouldn't help the Oilers, but it would help me.

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#7 TDSM31
January 25 2009, 01:51AM
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Willy, my man....what kind of 'advanced statistical analysis' did you use to come up with the notion that the Canucks have no teams within 1000 miles. I may only have one functioning brain cell left but I'm pretty sure Edmonton and Calgary are less than 1000 miles (and maybe even San Jose).

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#8 Jonathan Willis
January 25 2009, 10:10AM
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@ TDSM31:

Sorry, that should read kilometres. I was using google mapping and the last time I did it gave me the number in miles, so I must have just read that again.

Silly blunder, and a good catch by you.

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#9 deep oil
January 25 2009, 03:37PM
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TDSM31 wrote:

Willy, my man….what kind of ‘advanced statistical analysis’ did you use to come up with the notion that the Canucks have no teams within 1000 miles. I may only have one functioning brain cell left but I’m pretty sure Edmonton and Calgary are less than 1000 miles (and maybe even San Jose).

with much respect jw has been americanized - he actually meant km - when was the last time you you bought a 750 ml bottle of crown - most of us would call it a 26..... mosy of nation though buy 40's for reasons not need mentioning

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#10 Mr Debakey
January 25 2009, 08:06PM
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Two words

Portland & Seattle

All 3 western Canadian teams would benefit a tonne by moving a couple of SE teams to the Cascades.

Mr Katz should make it a priority to match owners from those cities with current NHL teams. Make a few calls and so forth

And I know the Seattle arena ain't the greatest. But it'd do for now.

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