Well, the best framework we have for what a lockout shortened schedule would look like comes from the 1995 season when 34 games were officially wiped off the schedule leaving us with a 48 game dash to the finish line in which all regular season games where played as intra-conference games with no All Star Game.
Course, there are a few differences from that season and this season from a league standpoint:
- The NHL consisted of four divisions instead of six with six teams in each division in the Western Conference and eight teams in each division in the Eastern Conference.
- There were only 26 teams as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, and what were known as the Atlanta Thrashers had yet to be awarded expansion bids by the league. When all those teams did join the league.
- The Winnipeg Jets were still the original Winnipeg Jets. They'd play one more season (1995-96) in Manitoba before moving to Phoenix. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, the Quebec Nordiques spent one final lockout shortened season in Canada before moving Colorado.
- The season started on January 20th with the Stars and Canucks skating to a 1-1 tie at the old Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. The trade deadline was April 7th and the season ultimately ended on June 24th when the New Jersey Devils put the finishing touches on a four game sweep of the Detroit Red Wings en route to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
From the Stars perspective, they were still entrenched in the Central Division with Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Toronto, and Winnipeg (Toronto moved to the Eastern Conference as part of the NHL's realignment to a six division format before the 1998--99 season). I'd like to remind everyone they can thank the NHLPA for screwing us all out of a similar arrangement that would have taken effect this season.
But I digress.
Back in 1995, the Stars played 24 games inside the division and 24 against what was the Pacific Division against Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton. And no games whatsoever against the Eastern Conference.
As a side note, the 1995 season goes down for historical purposes as the only season in which a team from the Western Conference did not beat a single Eastern Conference team at any point during the season.
Within the Central Division:
- Dallas played host to the Blackhawks and Blues three times while making two visits to Chicago and St. Louis twice.
- They played host to the Red Wings and Maple Leafs twice while making three visits to Detroit and Toronto.
- They played Winnipeg just four times making two visits up north while hosting the Jets for a pair of games at Reunion Arena.
- They played each Pacific Division team four teams (twice home and twice away).
Due to a competitive imbalance, the schedule in the Eastern Conference was slightly different as divisional rivals played each other four times (6 opponents twice home and twice away) and teams from the other division just three times each instead of four.
Now if there's another 48 game regular season, I'd imagine the NHL will probably schedule everyone to play within their own conference like last time. If so, the breakdown for the Stars schedule would probably look like this:
- Each teams plays it's divisional rivals six times each, just like during an 82 game season (3 home and 3 away). This would comprise half the schedule just like in 1995.
- If it's a 24-24 split between divisional and non-divisional games, then the Stars would play 6 of their non-divisional rivals twice (once at home and once away) and four of their non-divisional rivals three times (variation of once at home/twice away and twice at home/once away).
I doubt the league goes to a 20 game divisional format because that would create a 28 game non-divisional schedule. With 10 non-divisional opponents, it's a lot easier to balance the schedule out in 24 games than it would be if there were 28 games.
And yes, this does mean that a greater percentage of road games will start after 9:00 local time. If there is a silver lining, however, the Stars won't have to make 4-5 trips out to the Pacific Coast to wrap up the road portion of their schedule. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few back-to-back games in the same city.
And as side note, I'm somewhat surprised the league has never accommodated any of the Pacific Division or Northwest Division teams by engaging in this kind of scheduling to help cut down on the amount of travel. And I'll expound on this point at some point later in the season in a realignment post since the NHL and NHLPA opted to keep kicking that can down the road.
I'd assume since we got tantalizing close to real, actual realignment back in December of 2011 that certain ownership camps will want to finally settle this issue either later in the spring, or this upcoming offseason.
Now as for whether the Stars start the season at home or on the road, I perused the American Airlines Center event calendar this morning. The Mavericks play home games on the 16th and 18th. From the 19th through the 24th, the AAC's schedule is empty.
In fact, the original schedule had Dallas playing the Avs on the 17th and the Sharks on the 19th. And the HP Pavilion is booked through the end of January according to my Sharks tweeps on Twitter.