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Why home-and-home series are great, and should happen more often

The Columbus Blue Jackets are entering a weird section of their season. Yesterday, they played the New York Islanders. Tomorrow, they play the New York Islanders, but this time it’s in their fancy new arena! Then, they do the same thing against Philadelphia, except without the fancy new arena. And go for two with Boston after that.

And it’s freaking awesome.

I remember, as a kid, always getting excited for these. I didn’t have a particular reason why. I remember one versus Philadelphia somewhere around 2012 where I was very excited to see Jakub Voracek in back-to-back games. But I think there is an essence to the home-and-home that is really special.

Before looking at the factors, let’s talk about why home-and-homes don’t happen more often. The main one is the pacing of the schedule. Two examples in this year’s CBJ schedule are Tampa Bay and Colorado. For the Avalanche, the only two games were played in a November home-and-home, originally scheduled to be played in Finland. The Blue Jackets saw Colorado in that three-day period in November, after not seeing them in a year and a half, thanks to a little pandemic you might’ve heard of, and won’t see them again for close to a year, minimum. That sucks.

The other part, which I think is a lot more of a shaky argument, is fairness. Say the Blue Jackets had 12 more points than they do, in the thick of a playoff race. Our 80th and 81st games are against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the best team in the league. That seems a bit unfair, no? Fighting for our playoff lives against the best team in the league? Or, if you’re the Capitals, and the Lightning are locked in their position and rest guys, then the team you’re fighting for the last spot with get two easier games. Also seems unfair. We also hit Colorado at the perfect time, and somehow got all four points out of it, so you can also make the argument that could be unfair, that we dodge the best team in the West aside from the one week they were bad. My counterpoint to that would be that we play those games eventually so it doesn’t matter, but I can see how it’d have that appearance of unfairness.

The pros for home-and-homes can be summarized in one sentence. I tried a lot to elaborate and build up to this while writing, but in reality it’s a pretty simple principle. Home-and-homes are smaller samples of the magic of playoff hockey. They’re more intense, there’s more strategy, they help to create better rivalries, and are just plain fun.

First, the intensity. While not a home-and-home per se, our recent series versus Minnesota is a good example. In the first game on March 11, the Wild played a frustrating, chippy game for 50 minutes that boiled over with a pair of questionable hits in the final moments. Two weeks later, with that game relatively fresh, the expansion cousins played another incredible, intense game. Many commenters here called it “playoff-like” in atmosphere. Now imagine if that game came a day or two later. Who says no to that?

Next, the strategy bit. One of the most critical aspects of coaching is the in-game adjustment. Are the Blue Jackets strong in this area? We do have the most comeback wins in the league. But sometimes, a lead is too great to overcome, or an adjustment doesn’t make itself obvious until watching film afterwards. What if you had another chance a couple days later? That’d be pretty cool, and would bring another element of playoff hockey into the regular season.

For the rivalry argument, we’re going to use an infamous example from last season. On May 4th, 2021, Tom Wilson crossed a line, and slammed Artemi Panarin’s head into the ice. On May 6th, the teams played again, and all hell broke lose. It was glorious. Now, the Rangers and Capitals weren’t exactly best friends before that incident, but that next game had heat. The Blue Jackets-Wild example from before is another example.

Finally, it’s just fun! I like home-and-homes. Whether it’s comparing arenas, comparing uniforms, doing fun stuff with uniforms (Remember when the Jackets and Wings wore white at home for a series?), reuniting a big trade, whatever; home-and-homes are just pure fun!

So, how would I implement this? I’m giving each team 13 home-and-homes per year, for just under a third of the season. Is that too many? Probably. Do I care? Not really. We can adjust as needed.

First, let’s look at how the current scheduling format works.

Opponent Games per Team Total
In-Division vs 5; 4 games – vs 2; 3 games 26 games
Cross-Division 3 games 24 games
Non-Conference 2 Games 32 games

I’ll be honest, I’m not a massive fan of this. I think we should prioritize in-division and in-conference equality over making sure every team is in every arena. If you miss one game against each of the divisions on the other side of the nation, does anyone care? No! So here’s how I fix it.

Opponent Games per Team Total
In-Division 4 games, 1 home-and-home per team 28 games
Cross-Division 3 games, 1 home-and-home per 2 teams 24 games
Non-Conference vs 14; 2 games – vs 2; 1 game, 1 home-and-home per division 30 games

In-division, you get one home-and-home per team. You still get three series to space throughout the year, and both home games independent of each other. Plus, the NHL’s playoff format is dependent on divisional rivalries. Why not boost those with more home-and-homes?

Cross-division, we get some home-and-homes, but to a lesser extent. Ideally, they’d alternate between seasons: you’d get one set of four teams one year, one the next. Non-conference, it’s one set per division. No rotation; this would be used to highlight big events. Top two picks go to different conferences? Set them up with a pair! Cup Final rematch? Early home-and-home hate match! Big trade, a la Laine for PLD? Put their returns back-to-back!

What do you think? Should we see more home-to-homes in the NHL?