Blackhawks’ unusual 2021 schedule affects travel logistics, game-planning abilities
The two-game sets that compose almost all of the schedule make for more frequent games but less frequent travel.
When Patrick Kane thinks back to his rookie season in 2007-08, he remembers seeing a lot of the Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Predators and Blues.
The NHL schedule was formatted far differently then. The Hawks played those teams — their Central Division rivals at the time — eight times each. But they played only 10 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams at all, and they faced those 10 teams once each.
So when the NHL’s exclusively intradivision 2021 schedule landed in Kane’s hands, he felt like it was 2007 all over again.
‘‘I like playing different teams, but I guess for this year that’s just the way it is,’’ Kane said during training camp. ‘‘It kind of reminds me of the schedule when I first came into the league. But every game’s huge because every game’s in your division.’’
The Hawks’ game Friday at the Lightning, the second of a two-game set in Tampa, Florida, was the second of eight meetings between the teams this season.
In fact, the last of them — on April 27 at the United Center — is the only game on the Hawks’ 56-game schedule that isn’t part of a two- or three-game set.
Those sets will arrive on the calendar at a feverish pace. The Hawks’ 56 scheduled games will take place in 116 days, meaning they’ll average 1.1 days of rest between games. They played 70 games in 160 days last season before the coronavirus shutdown in March, averaging 1.3 days of rest between games.
In that sense, fatigue and injuries inevitably will be more common, and the Hawks will have to make full use of the newly instituted six-man taxi squad to keep players fresh.
But the condensed schedule should provide relief in other ways. Because of the sets of games and the NHL’s efforts to make homestands and road trips longer and more efficient, the Hawks will have only 22 flights all season, an average of one every 5.3 days. And they have only 14 hotel stays, which means one new check-in every 8.3 days.
They had a flight every 3.1 days and arrived at a new hotel every 4.4 days last season.
‘‘It is a tight schedule, but there’s not as much travel,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘That’s where a lot of your practice time gets eaten up. For the most part, we’re staying in the same city for two games, so it’s going to give us a chance to get one [road] practice in at certain times.’’
|2019-20 season||2021 season|
|1 game every...||2.3 days||2.1 days|
|1 flight every...||3.1 days||5.3 days|
|1 new hotel every...||4.4 days||8.3 days|
The format opens the door for the coaching staff to do more specific game-planning.
In a typical season, Colliton has little to no chance to scout and design a scheme tailored to exploit a specific opponent’s weaknesses. This season, he will have time to do so — and so will opposing coaches against the Hawks.
‘‘In the season, when you’re playing a different team every night, you’re a bit limited in how much information you want to give the players,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Whereas in the playoffs or when you do play the same team multiple times in a short period, you can do more tactically and adjusting to teams.
‘‘As a coach, that’s fun. And I think the players, especially if we frame it that way, are going to enjoy it, too.’’
The constant exposure to the same opponents also will — just as in the playoffs — stir up more emotion. Eight Hawks-Red Wings matchups, a frequency not seen in the historic rivalry since 2007-08, well might revive long-dormant passions in the two cities.
‘‘[When you’re] building up a little bit of a hatred for a team you’re playing over and over, something’s going to happen,’’ defenseman Connor Murphy said. ‘‘You’re going to get chippier, you’re going to start to get frustrated and it’s going to bring out the best in you. That part will be a lot of fun.’’