National Hockey League needs to better pace the post/off-season

I realize most of the readers of hockey blogs don't need this, but let's recap the timeline of the end of the National Hockey League 2008-09 season and it's transition to the off-season:

  • Friday, June 12th -- The Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Detroit Red Wings to take the Stanley Cup.
  • Thursday, June 18th -- NHL seasonal awards ceremony held in Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Friday, June 26th -- NHL Entry Draft commences in Montreal, Quebec.
  • Monday, June 29th -- Teams announce which RFA's have been tendered qualifying offers.
  • Wednesday, July 1st -- NHL Free Agency signing period begins for Unrestricted Free Agents

All of this was at the very conclusion of play in the 2008-09 NHL season.  Of course, for 14 of the 30 NHL franchises, the season had concluded on April 11th, but hockey was still being played for another two+ months.   The last event that affected those 14 idle franchises was the Draft Lottery on April 14th...    Three days after the conclusion of the regular season?

Honestly, what's with the ultra-fast turn-around time for league off-season events?

There will ultimately be three months with absolutely nothing regarding hockey - sans arbitration hearings and the Olympic camps in August (though these do not happen annually).  All the hubbub of free-agency was covered on the days preceding free agency and the majority of the big name signings happened on the 1st day of free agency.

There were no prolonged courtships, there were no visits of prospective cities, no wooing outside of financial offers being upped or contract length being increased.  Nothing drew out the "Free Agent Frenzy" like one would expect from the marketing hype surrounding it.

Talk about a let-down.

Look at that time-line again for the post-season.  Two weeks after the conclusion of the playoffs, the entry draft was held.  19 days after the conclusion of the NHL season, free agency started.  There was a total of five days between marquee events.

It leaves one to wonder if anyone at the league office has every heard the word pacing before, let alone aware of its definition?

All professional sport leagues are year-round operations, though the NHL seems to believe that summer is best to be avoided at all costs.  It goes into hibernation shortly after the announcing of next season's schedule (which will be coming in the next few days).   Sure, signings and trades can and will still happen but, for all inherit purposes, the NHL practically ceases to be until arbitration hearings start.

That treats the fans rather coldly when you think about it.  Those loyal to the league are left up to their own devices until September when camps open.

During that doldrums stretch for hockey fans, the onset of NFL pre-season and regular season happen,  Major League Baseball's mid-season races go into overdrive, the NCAA football season commences, and even Major League Soccer or NASCAR help to sap fans focus on the next NHL season.

Ideally, improved pacing of off-season events would spread just about everything out a little better (non game events, mind you), resulting in a shift of few days or a few weeks in order to keep the league exposed to the public.

Let's start with the draft lottery.  You're at the very start of the NHL playoff season and you do not want to distract from that.  Pushing the lottery back to the 3rd round or later still achieves the means of hyping the top selections in the draft, but it grants more time for the non-playoff team fan base to switch gears from regular-season-letdown to playoff mode.

It can't stop there.  While free agency starts on July 1st (and that could be pushed back a couple of days), the draft preceding it by days or weeks is just wrong.  Why not push it back until mid or late July?  Teams will have already acted on who or what the need to pick up via free agency and by-way of other transactions.  This may very well affect draft needs and selections, but the hype of the draft still exists.  The pacing between the major events of the league off-season now aren't right on top of one another.

The Stanley Cup final should be left alone to rule June, with the awards ceremony trumpeting the passing of the NHL season shortly thereafter.  Free agency is still rather soon with an early July start, but the draft doesn't take away from the other three events and gives fans something to grasp onto before the summer doldrums encroach onto a hockey fan's mind.

Every professional sports league is a year-round operation, and it would be best if the NHL realized this and joined the club.

(this post was last edited on July 5th, 2009 at 1:13 PM)