Karl Taylor did have something positive to say about the Reign’s 2010-11 schedule.
“It’s better than last year,” the head coach said, “which is not saying a whole lot.”
Among the first things Taylor noticed was a less than ideal stretch of six out of seven games on the road to start the season. Then there was the similar number of games against other Pacific Division teams (35 total, including 20 at home and 15 on the road), and against West Division teams (34 total, including 11 at home and 23 on the road).
“We play Victoria once at home and five times on the road,” he said. “We play Vegas seven times at home and twice there. … Nothing makes sense to it based on the number of times you play different teams, so that’s interesting.”
Coaches always take a different eye to the schedule than fans, and Taylor took a cautious approach toward the team’s schedule around Christmas. While having a home game on Dec. 18 and not another until Dec. 26 would appear to be a blessing, the scheduling quirk makes it difficult to practice — especially considering the Reign go on the road for a stretch of four games in five days immediately after.
“We have to approach that and adjust. It’s pretty hard for us to practice with that schedule,” he said. “I felt last year, post-Christmas is when we went for our biggest slide. Part of that was the travel we had after Christmas. It’s the same situation this year, if you look at it.”
Reign President Justin Kemp had a simple explanation for the Dec. 26 home game against the Las Vegas Wranglers.
“Last year our number one walk-up [ticket sales] day was Dec. 27, so this year we got the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.
Kemp said he prefers to start the season on the road, which the Reign have now done in each of their first three seasons. For the team’s staff – and also the players – the early time on the road offers a few extra days to “work out the kinks” before the team begins play at home.
Kemp also was able to see some of his scheduling preferences realized – a more balanced home stand/road trip schedule, fewer stretches of three home games in three days, and an interconference series at Citizens Business Bank Arena against the Elmira Jackals. Kemp said an early draft of the Reign’s schedule had the Reign playing two series against American Conference teams.
There is, in the eyes of Taylor and Stockton Thunder head coach Matt Thomas, the larger issue of having the division standings count toward playoff seeds. Last season, the winners of the Pacific and West divisions got the top two seeds in the National Conference standings, regardless of record. Because the Reign play 35 games within their division and 37 games outside of it, Taylor believes there is no purpose in having the divisions at all – let alone using the division standings to count toward playoff seeds.
Eliminating divisions entirely probably won’t be discussed when the ECHL’s Board of Governors meet on June 15. There will be many options on the table, however, and Kemp said that he expects the playoff format will change again.
“I’d be the biggest proponent of having six of the eight (National Conference) teams making (the playoffs) — three of the four teams in each division,” he said.
Regardless of what changes in the future — be it the playoff format or the regular-season schedule — some things will never change.
“You’re never totally satisfied,” Taylor said. “I think there’s always things you don’t like about the schedule.”