How Does the NHL Handle Rescheduling and Postponements in the Season Scheduling?

Posted by David Harper on October 7th, 2023

Emily Kaplan, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski take a closer look at how the NHL is handling its rescheduling and postponements.

When Gary Bettman and the NHLPA agreed not to send players to the Olympics during the most recent CBA, it was understood that this season would be impacted.

Games Rescheduled

Gary Bettman was never a huge fan of sending NHL players to the Olympics, but he made an agreement in the final rounds of last season’s CBA and intended to see it through. The only way he would have exercised his opt-out clause was if the NHL felt that the season had been “materially impacted” by COVID-19 postponements.

Hatze Petros, the NHL’s executive vice president of scheduling and broadcast business, is known to the league as the scheduling guru. A mantle that he’s earned in spades this year.

His process for scheduling is a combination of automation with some manual input. He has a database with ratings information going back 35 years that helps guide him in his decisions. He also takes into account the needs of individual teams in their markets. For instance, he’d prefer to avoid Islanders-Rangers games early in the process so that both clubs don’t face each other on Sunday nights.

Games Postponed

After a pause, the season is back in full swing with games on the ice. But there's no doubt this is a very different environment than it was just weeks ago. A rash of team shutdowns and attendance restrictions has forced the league to postpone an incredible number of games.

Hatze Petros and the NHL scheduling staff were well aware of this going in to devising the season's matrix. They've already rescheduled 35 games, and there will likely be more to come.

The NHL is working to keep these changes as organic as possible. For example, if the Maple Leafs ask for a change it's weighed against what will happen to other teams in the schedule.

One good thing to note is that the league still has a buffer week built into its schedule, allowing it to delay the playoffs a week if necessary. That's a sign of the league's conservative approach to this situation.

Dates Rescheduled

The league is going to need to address a lot of things this summer including the draft, free agency and more. One big item will be the playoffs.

There is a lot of work that goes into putting together the NHL schedule. Hatze Petros has said in the past that he and his staff would like to take the time in the future to lift the curtain on the process so fans can see exactly what goes into it.

The rescheduling that has been done so far this season has been pretty good, given the COVID-19 crisis and teams that had large portions of their rosters and team personnel in the protocol. That’s likely the reason there isn’t a whole lot of runway left. For example, the Brooklyn Nets had five of their players and several other members of their organization in protocol for Sunday’s game with the Denver Nuggets. That means it’s going to be tough to get that game rescheduled and played.

Dates Postponed for Postseason

As the NHL moves forward, it will need to balance the health and safety of its players with maintaining a competitive schedule. One way it will do this is by shifting the start times of a few games.

The NHL's schedule maker, Steve Hatze Petros, is known around the league as "the scheduling guru." His reputation is well earned as he has helped navigate this unique year of COVID-19 protocols with relative ease.

Petros has been making adjustments to the schedule for more than 30 years and it shows. He left a lasting impression on the managers at a recent GMs meeting.

He explained that when he builds the schedule matrix, he creates windows for each team in case they need to be rescheduled. That flexibility will be valuable going forward, especially with no concerts in the arenas this season, which could provide additional windows for rescheduling games. He also said that when a team needs to push back the return of a player, the decision will be based on how healthy that player is and what impact it might have on the overall roster.

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David Harper

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David Harper
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