Lightning schedule does few favors for peak snowbird season

IMG_1381A request to the NHL schedule makers should be simple for the Lightning: more road trips during October and more home dates after the Super Bowl.

When the Lightning schedule was released Sunday afternoon, the home and road dates are somewhat bipolar. After three games to start at home, it’s off to Western Canada for five games. The Bolts will have four of these five-game road trips, which isn’t preferable to be gone so long at a time when you’re looking to drive attendance at a steady hum, but it might be a trade-off to get 22 home dates from January to the end of the season, including a six-game home stand in March.

The Bolts know that they draw better at home when the snowbirds are here and when the Bucs aren’t playing or doing well. Last season the team lost out big time with being on the road in February and having the Olympic break carve up a good part of the month.

This year, a five-game western road swing takes the team out of sight from Feb. 13 to 22. Then they have five days off after that until they play at home. That’s essentially two full weeks of the Lightning being out of pocket for home fans, especially those who go to bed early.

The Forum is a busy arena for concerts and Ringling/Feld events like the circus, Disney on Ice and all, but they don’t have another tenant to worry about during the bulk of the hockey season. And that’s why I’m astounded at how bizarre of a schedule they get, even when they can’t truly load up on home dates until March.

The Florida Panthers’ schedule is slightly more snowbird friendly, though they need more help for attendance than Tampa. The Panthers have a five-game home stand in late January, then February is largely on the road  but from Feb. 26 to March 12 the Panthers play seven consecutive home games! They have another three games in a row at home later in March then end the season with all five of their April dates in Sunrise.

March is also favorable for the Lightning with six in a row at home and three in a row earlier that month.

John Walton of the Washington Capitals broadcast team spoke with the team’s assistant general manager Don Fishman about what it takes to make a schedule and the length of time it takes to form one. It’s  worth the watch for Scheduling 101.

In it, Fishman and Walton gush how the Caps were able to get plenty of short road trips of two to three games, some four, and eliminate a lot of one-off trips and have a geographically friendly schedule. They also have a lot of weekend dates, too, and only have to contend with the circus, Fishman said, because the arena didn’t get booked for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Verizon Center is by far busier than the Forum, having the Caps, Washington Wizards and Georgetown Hoyas basketball all as tenants. That’s in addition to your standard concerts and WWE affairs.

The Caps have the advantage of geography being clustered closer to the rest of the Eastern Conference, and Ted Leonsis also owning the Wizards and Washington Mystics for that matter. And the major league dates are probably easier to plan for and black out than the concert tours being orchestrated.

I don’t know if the Caps had this issue this past season or not, but I remember that when the Hoyas season started up, there would be many times that the Hoyas would play an 11 a.m. or noon game then the arena staff transforms the floor from hardwood to an ice rink in a matter of hours in time for warmups. The ice is horrendous, slushy and chippy from the ice baking underneath, not to mention the large Metro station underneath pumping hot air to the surface. But the Caps still gets those Saturday evenings.

All of this could be moot, though. The Lightning are a playoff team again, they were attracting sell-out crowds, and hopefully has lit a spark for more fans to come out October through January.

Other schedule analysis:

 

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