This new schedule leaves plenty to ponder

Updated: July 29, 2005, 10:48 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

The new National Hockey League schedule tells us some dismal things, like Detroit not playing Montreal, Toronto or Boston, or Calgary not playing Tampa Bay, or the entire Pacific Division not seeing Sidney Crosby.

Martin Brodeur
The Flyers will have eight chances to beat Martin Brodeur and the Devils this season.

But hey, you can't shatter a sport without breaking a few eggs, and you didn't think that Bob Goodenow's forced resignation came without a price, do you? I mean, other than the price of still having Gary Bettman on the job?

On the other hand, these are supposed to be happy days in ShinnyWorld, so we should find the good, starting with this:

There's no All-Star Game!

No contrived matchups between Us and The Foreigners. No 13-12 piefights. No overblown All-Star Weekends. No meetings in the halls of the mighty with the main topic, "What the hell do we do with the All-Star thing this time?"

The game has been deferred because of the Winter Olympics, which by all signs plays far better for the players and the audience because, among other things, the players and audience care about the Olympics.

Last year's game was canceled like the 1,230 other games, so we have to go back to the 2004 game to recapture those mem ... er, maybe it was 2003, with the shootout goal by ... or 2001, with the 26 goals and ...

Nope, sorry. We tried. Not a memory in the bunch.

The actual schedule has its charms, if you in San Jose want to see Anaheim eight teams, or if you in Miami have a hankering for all the Atlanta Thrashers you can stand. But as we have come to understand from other leagues, rivalries are born in big moments, not in repetition or geographical convenience. The Kings and Mighty Ducks aren't going to hate each other just because they see each other a lot. They are going to hate each other because they have played important games against each other ... which, so far, they haven't.

You see, for every Calgary-Edmonton, there's a Nashville-Columbus, or a Washington-Florida, or a Phoenix-Los Angeles. These things aren't mandated, they happen organically, and if you get something extra like Ottawa-Toronto based on their virulent playoff history, then you've got something special.

But no, the new NHL schedule is long on commuter trips and short on sense. The league has six nondescript divisions based solely on geography, with names based solely on geography, and history based on the idea that there is no such thing.

And now there is more geography than ever. Eight games against each of your divisional opponents, then four each against the other 10 conference teams. That leaves 10 from the other conference, which means the Pacific doesn't play the Northeast, the Northwest doesn't play the Southeast, and the Central doesn't play the Atlantic.

Still, it isn't that big a deal. It can't be. Vancouver doesn't play Carolina? No Dallas-Buffalo? St. Louis will have to live without the joy of New Jersey? Jumping Jesus, how can anyone be this obsessed after what the sport has done to its devotees? Did you honestly think they'd get the schedule right after not even having one the year before?

No, it's time to adjust your sights to the side, because straight ahead isn't going to look that pretty for awhile. Be thankful, truly joyful in fact, that the All-Star Game is not going to be one of those things that will cause us to yawn and snore and beg for Celebrity Crazy Eights or some other idiocy. That there is something better, and that maybe the World Championships can be scheduled for February '07, and '08, and '09, and that the sport will give us the best there is, not the best on cruise control.

And why? Because the customers deserve it. In a world where "deserving it" and "getting it" typically have nothing to do with each other, the hockey fans are owed this one. They have taken metric tons of crap from their friends, the most withering form of contempt from the keepers of the sport they love, and now they can't even say they have a chance to see every team in the league any more.

No All-Star Game? Hot damn, if it isn't a move in the right direction.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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