San Jose Sharks have a lengthy travel schedule for 2011-12, but they lose NHL’s Frequent Flyer title to the Los Angeles Kings by a wide margin
2011-12 NHL TEAM TRAVEL SCHEDULE:
(miles to travel, back-to-back-games, 1 game road trips)
1. Los Angeles Kings – 55,591, 15, 13
2. Florida Panthers – 52,751, 14, 8
3. Anaheim Ducks – 50,296, 13, 10
4. Edmonton Oilers – 50,006, 12, 10
5. Dallas Stars – 49,622, 14, 17
6. Phoenix Coyotes – 49,192, 13, 15
7. Calgary Flames – 49,104, 10, 5
8. Colorado Avalanche – 48,945, 10, 18
9. Vancouver Canucks – 46,826, 11, 2
10. Winnipeg/Atlanta – 44,627, 14, 8
11. San Jose Sharks – 43,994, 14, 5
12. Tampa Bay Lightning – 43,717, 10, 12
13. Detroit Red Wings – 42,865, 14, 20
14. Minnesota Wild – 42,860, 11, 12
15. Columbus Blue Jackets – 42,831, 16, 17
16. Nashville Predators – 39,534, 11, 10
17. Chicago Blackhawks – 39,288, 17, 20
18. Montreal Canadiens – 39,174, 13, 19
19. St. Louis Blues – 38,781, 17, 20
20. Carolina Hurricanes – 38,114, 16, 24
21. Washington Capitals – 37,969, 13, 22
22. New York Rangers – 36,385, 14, 11
23. Buffalo Sabres – 35,911, 21, 23
24. Philadelphia Flyers – 34,193, 13, 20
25. Ottawa Senators – 33,915, 17, 20
26. Boston Bruins – 33,770, 13, 11
27. Pittsburgh Penguins – 33,439, 15, 17
28. New York Islanders – 32,410, 13, 20
29. Toronto Maple Leafs – 32,239, 17, 21
30. New Jersey Devils – 28,597, 15, 24
Source: Dirk Hoag, ontheforecheck.com
Without stepping onto the ice for the regular season the San Jose Sharks have already lost their #1 ranking in one area of the game. For two of the last three seasons, San Jose has lead the league in travel (56,254 miles in 2010-11, 56,111 miles in 2008-09). In 2009-10 the Sharks finished a respectable 8th in miles traveled (46,415), but that figure comes with a caveat. Five San Jose regulars played up until the final night of the two week 2010 Winter Olympic break in February. What followed was a condensed stretch run that saw 20 games played in the final month and a half. It pushed the team to slightly better than a game every other day schedule. Not a pace condusive to the start of the grueling 4-round Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Sharks began 2010-11 with high hopes and high miles. After being out in front of the league drafting German prospects for several years, San Jose played a lively exhibition game against Deutsche Eishockey Liga’s Adler Mannheim then traveled north for back-to-back NHL Premiere Games against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. At the time, a 7-day break between European and North American regular season games was considered advantageous. That theory was proven incorrect on the ice. A pair of home opening losses to Atlanta and Carolina were a wake-up call. Up-and-down play continued until it was capped by a near franchise worst 6-game losing streak in early January.
“We have to make sure we’re pushing probably earlier this year than we did last year. We let them off the hook a little bit too much,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said of the poor start last year. “We have to hold them accountable.” Making that slightly easier will be 12,260 fewer miles to fly than last season.
Travel at the NHL level is far different than the normal commercial experience. San Jose’s new chartered 747 has it’s own youtube videos, and very well may have it’s own facebook page and twitter feed. For professional athletes, time spent in the air is often time spent not sleeping, but the dangers of ritual travel became all too apparent with the crash of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s charter flight that killed Sharks prospect Daniil Sobchenko and 8 other former NHL’ers. Many hockey players and team staff are uncomfortable flying, but they have to hop on dozens of flights regardless.
On the West Coast travel is de rigueur. Pacific Division teams have fewer 1-game roadtrips than the Eastern Conference, San Jose is tied for the second fewest this season with 5, more back-to-back games (14), and more stretches of 3-games-in-4-night play. Chartering a bus for a road game is out of the question. The newly relocated Winnipeg Jets franchise, Canada’s only Southeast Division team, will surprisingly log only 44,627 miles this year. “I don’t mind it. It’s not that big a thing,” Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart told the National Post of the expected travel. “There’s really no excuses. It’s not like what Vancouver or L.A. or those West Coast teams have to go through. That’s tough out there.”
According to On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag, fellow Pacific Division rival Los Angeles will take over the 2011-12 title for most difficult travel schedule with 55,591 miles to fly but the Rangers will be busy early. New York will begin a grueling 5 cities in 4 countries exhibition schedule shortly (Prague, GothenBurg, Bratislava, Zug) before starting the path to the Winter Classic. Anaheim will play an exhibition game against Jokerit in Finland before debuting the season in Helsinki as part of the NHL Premiere against Buffalo. Los Angeles will have an exhibition against Hamburg in Germany before playing the Rangers in Stockholm.
Eventually the Winnipeg Jets franchise may have to be moved out of the SouthEast, a decision which the league could begin to discuss in December. Detroit and Columbus have expressed a desire to move to the Eastern Conference, Dallas would like to move out of the West Coast heavy Pacific Division. With 6 divisional games a year against San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix, a considerable number of Stars road games are not even in the same time zone. It may be time to take the training wheels off of Vancouver, place them in a much more difficult Pacific Division, and let the other pieces land where they fall.