Coyotes must deal with ‘unbelievable’ late-season schedule

The Coyotes play eight road games against Eastern Conference teams in the final 37 days of the season.

Anne-Marie Sorvin/Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

NEW YORK — Cruelty wasn’t intended, but logic didn’t play a large enough role when the Coyotes’ schedule was announced this summer. 

Somehow, the NHL saw fit to make the Coyotes play eight of their 16 Eastern Conference road games in the final five-plus weeks (37 days) of the season, parsed out over three trips.

Following a four-game trip to Washington, Tampa, Florida and Boston from March 8-13, the Coyotes return to the Eastern time zone this week to face the Rangers, Penguins and Devils in a four-day span.

Twelve days later, they fly back east to vist the Blue Jackets before facing the Predators (Western Conference), who are about as far east as you can go in the Central time zone. 

"I have absolutely no idea who makes the schedule or how it gets made, but it absolutely makes zero sense," captain Shane Doan said. "You play in New York, then you go play in Pittsburgh and then you come back to New York after we’ve already played the Islanders, we’ve already played Philly and we were just (back east) last week. 

"It doesn’t make any sense. It’s unbelievable. It’s made by people who don’t do the traveling. I know that."

COYOTES AT RANGERS

When: Monday, 4 p.m.
Where
: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV
: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Records
: New York 39-29-4; Phoenix 34-26-11
Season series
: Phoenix leads 1-0

Scouting the Rangers: New York is in a battle for an Eastern Conference playoff spot with a host of other teams, with the order of seeding seemingly changing daily. The Rangers are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, a pace that should be enough to qualify (if they can maintain it) in the weak East. Scoring is still a problem, though, as left wing Rick Nash is the only player on the team with 20 or more goals this season. The Rangers, behind goalie Henrik Lundqvist (.919 save percentage), rank sixth in goals against per game (2.38).

The NHL schedule is partially computer-generated with oversight by Steve Hatze Petros, the NHL’s vice president of scheduling, research and operations. Hatze Petros’ job is difficult when you consider all the other event bookings he must work around at various arenas and all the requests he gets from various teams.

Western Conference teams always travel more miles than Eastern Conference teams because of the greater distance between NHL cities in the West. According to SB Nation, the Sharks will fly the most miles this season (57,612), with the Coyotes coming in second at 52,633. By contrast, the Rangers, Phoenix’s opponent on Monday, will travel just 29,839 miles this season. 

Those extra miles take a toll on a team over the course of a season.

Reducing miles for Western teams is difficult because of the aforementioned geography, and the order of cities visited can look a little illogical when you factor in other event dates and the travel plans of 13 other teams who are on the road at the same time.

But the Coyotes’ travel schedule was among the worst for years when the franchise did not have an owner to advocate for the team on that and a number of other issues. A couple months before he departed in free agency, former Coyote Ray Whitney vented about the importance of having an owner/advocate to avoid situations like this.

The new ownership group did not officially take over the club until August 5, so the schedule was already out and there was little they could do about it. But co-owner Anthony LeBlanc said Sunday that scheduling will be a focus when he meets with several officials from the league on Monday in New York.

"We’re going to provide some dates and some overall suggestions of what’s important to us, but more so from a home games standpoint," LeBlanc said. "The league certainly did a good job of providing us some nights that were important to us. Saturdays are obviously important for us from an attendance standpoint, and in general the schedule is pretty good."

The revenue-producing home dates may have been one of the trade-offs for the Coyotes having to play this grueling late-season schedule, but with owners to advocate on their behalf, LeBlanc is hopeful he can work with the league on a road schedule that is a little more forgiving in the future.

I have absolutely no idea who makes the schedule or how it gets made, but it absolutely makes zero sense … It’s unbelievable. It’s made by people who don’t do the traveling. I know that.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan

"Teams will always meet with the league and try to massage their schedule," he said. "Hopefully next year, with the fact that we’re in as a stable ownership group, there’s going to be a little more input."

In the meantime, the Coyotes will have to cope with the impact of this murderous schedule at a critical juncture of the season while they are in a dogfight for one of the two wild-card spots in the West.

"I think it just messes up your sleeping patterns a little bit," veteran defenseman Derek Morris said last week. "Last time, we got all the way back east, just got settled in and then came back. This trip is going to be shorter. We’re going to have shorter turnarounds, shorter rests, and we’re just going to have to find a way to catch up when we can."

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett has been very careful about managing his team’s rest. He often notes that rest is just as important as practice at this stage of the season. The Coyotes have taken more days off late in the season, and their morning skates are often just about getting loose and restating game plans.

Tippett is no fan of the team’s current travel predicament, but like the players, he’s not willing to cross over into excuse territory.

"We could have long discussions about scheduling. Every year there’s tough spots, and every year it seems like there are games where it’s, ‘Why would they do this?’" he said, noting how the schedule was condensed again this season, just as it was last season after the lockout ended. "That’s the way it goes, and the reality is everybody has those issues in their schedule. I think the Olympic break threw a little more of those issues in this year.

"They’re all manageable."

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