Making the National Hockey League schedule is incredibly difficult. The league office has to juggle the travel of 32 teams and building availability at 32 different venues, many of which are shared with other pro teams.
But even with those caveats, I think we can all agree that this year’s scheduling for the Battle of Alberta is pretty weird.
The NHL moved to a 32-team model in 2021-22 with the addition of the Seattle Kraken, meaning that each division has eight teams. So each team – Calgary included – plays five teams four times per year and two teams three times per year.
This season is the first time in that rotation – two times in each seven year cycle – that the Flames and Oilers only meet three times per season. That’s fine, as it’s merely a product of the structure of the schedule and the Pacific Division’s size.
But the timing of the three games is less than ideal for stoking a hot rivalry throughout the NHL calendar. The Battles of Alberta in 2022-23 take place in Calgary’s first, seventh and 36th game. The season series concludes on Dec. 27 and in the event they meet in the opening round of the playoffs in mid-April, it would represent an almost four month gap between games. (And that’s the earliest they could renew acquaintances.)
In 2019-20, the Battle of Alberta was also pretty odd, but in a way that was arguably better for stoking a potential playoff rivalry. In the pandemic-shortened season, the first Battle of Alberta didn’t take place until the Flames’ 40th game (on Dec. 27). The majority of the season series was stacked in the second half of the season, which made each game incredibly important for each team’s playoff push – which only served to increase the stakes in each game.
And that importance served to set up some of the most memorable and infamous Battle of Alberta moments.
Matthew Tkachuk agitating Zack Kassian? That was in 2019-20.
Mike Smith fighting Cam Talbot at centre ice? That was in 2019-20.
At this point, it’s not clear what would be better for the rivalry: three or four games distributed throughout the season, or all of the games stacked into the back half of the schedule.
Either way, this year’s scheduling is a bit of a bummer. Hopefully next season’s Battle of Alberta games are scheduled a bit more deliberately to maximize everyone’s fun.
(And hopefully there are four games next season.)