The NHL is set to return to competitive action this week. Teams are either winding down their training camps, or in some unfortunate cases are back in quarantine. Undoubtedly, there are many challenges associated with starting a regular season while the pandemic is yet to be under control. As spectators, we can only hope those involved are taking the right precautions to keep themselves and those around them safe.
One of the challenges is travelling between games. While playing in a bubble is one of the safer methods, it’s logistically impossible to play through an entire regular season. With the divisional realignment, the NHL hopes to limit team-to-team contact by essentially making their divisions four larger bubbles, with travel and external contacts included.
The unique divisions and schedule sets teams up for very interesting travel schedules too. To look at what the Calgary Flames and the rest of the North Division will be subject to in terms of travel, I decided to look at the total travel distances and total number of trips each Canadian team will have to take.
Coast to coast travel
The seven Canadian teams will be travelling between cities to fulfill their regular season games. Going from Vancouver all the way to Montreal, a lot of east-west travel is to be expected for the North Division.
To see the amount of travel each team is subject to, I calculated the total distance in kilometres by computing the distances between each city’s airport and adding it all up based on each team’s schedule.
Thus, travel is defined by total air travel distances courtesy of distance.to, whether or not air travel is opted for. In the case of travelling between Calgary and Edmonton or Ottawa and Montreal, it might make a lot more sense to forgo airports entirely. But in any case, air travel distance is what’s being computed. Further, that means that no mileage from airport to hotel to arena is accounted for.
The total regular season travel for each team is assumed to start from their home city, and ends at the city where they play their last game of the regular season. Of course, these numbers may change due to unforeseen circumstances such as team outbreaks or regions in Canada undergoing COVID-19 lockdowns.
With all that said and done, let’s see how Calgary and the rest of the Canadian teams stack up in terms of their travel.
North Division travel breakdown
From the computed numbers, the Flames are third in the division for both total distance travelled, as well as total number of trips. Calgary will travel 31,749 km over 25 different trips to complete their regular season.
Ahead of them in total distance are the Edmonton Oilers, who travel the most overall with 34,090 km over 26 trips, and the Vancouver Canucks with 33,354 km covered over just 22 trips, which happens to be the lowest trip total among Canadian teams. Given that the Canucks are on the West Coast, every road trip includes a good chunk of travel, so that makes sense.
The Toronto Maple Leafs end up with the most trips at 28, but are ranked fourth in total distance at 31,671 km, just under 100 less than the Flames. Relatively among the Canadian cities, Toronto has less distance to travel to go to both Ottawa and Montreal, and their schedule includes a lot of back and forths between these nearby cities.
The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators fall under the 30,000 km mark, each travelling 28,203 km and 27,618 km, respectively. The Canadiens will see 23 total trips while the Senators will have one more at 24.
Lastly, the Winnipeg Jets will see the least amount of travel overall, racking up 27,464 km over their season spread over just 23 trips. At a cursory glance, that seems like one of the most ideal travel schedules for any North Division team. Perhaps that’s to do with their location, being right in the middle of Canada.
The travel associated with playing out a 56 game regular season is immense, and it’s of utmost importance that the NHL puts forth the proper amount of precautions and protocols. There’s a lot of stress added to essential workers in having professional sports happen during a pandemic.
Of course, the intrinsic value of having sports to watch as a distraction from our own individual experiences with the pandemic is welcomed, despite the constant acknowledgement that maybe sports shouldn’t happen at all. No matter the case, the 2020-21 NHL season will happen, and we can all hope that it carries out with minimal impacts along the way.
The travel that the Canadian teams will undergo will be immense and as they go from one city to another, the reality of the pandemic will vary. Staying diligent and not allowing anyone in the NHL to get complacent will be key in successfully getting through the regular season.