The holidays are in full swing, and it’s time for the gift that keeps on giving: The Comeback’s weekly hockey mailbag!

1. What is your ideal NHL schedule? I’ve seen you say that there are a lot of games that don’t need to happen during the season between teams from other conferences. Would you shorten the season? Everyone loved the 48-game season so should that be the new schedule?

 – Donald

Let’s forget the idea of shortening the season. Whether it’s 48 games or 70 games, it’s never going to happen. Asking the NHL to throw away 12 games for each team would mean asking the league to throw away millions of dollars, and the only time it’s willing to do that is when it wants to break the players union and create a new CBA.

The idea that every team faces every team in the other conference twice is silly. It only exists because owners wanted that Sidney Crosby gate in their building. That’s nice but it leaves so many extraneous games between teams with no history, rivalry or reason to see each other twice in six months.

There’s no reason Edmonton/Florida or Carolina/Vancouver or New Jersey/San Jose or Winnipeg/Boston has to happen more than once a season.

It’s torture watching local broadcasts sell games like this. “Tonight here in Glendale, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Kyle Turris, who made an exodus from the desert to Ontario in 2011! Will the Coyotes offer him a rude welcome? Or will Turris drive over his former team? Senators! Coyotes! Next!”

DirecTV and this thing called the Internet allow fans to watch any game they want at any time. You can see highlights of goals 20 minutes after they happen on NHL.com. No one needs to see Crosby or anyone else in person anymore because people can see anything they want at any time.

Here’s how the NHL schedule will look when I become commissioner, hopefully before the start of next season:

East plays the West once per season; that’s 14 games for the East and 16 games for the West. The location of these games rotates every year.

The other 68 games for the East are broken down this way:

  • seven games vs. seven divisional opponents (49)
  • two games apiece vs. eight opponents in East’s other division (16)
  • one extra game vs. three opponents in East’s other division (3)

The other 66 games for the West are broken down this way:

  • eight games vs. six divisional opponents (48)
  • two games apiece vs. seven opponent’s in West’s other division (14)
  • one extra game vs. four opponents in West’s other division (4)

If the asymmetrical nature of the schedule upsets you, realize it’s asymmetrical already. This way, playoff teams are decided more by games within the division and conference, which seems fairer. Those 3/4 extra games in each conference can be decided via the previous year’s standings. Travel costs would go down, and what owner wouldn’t want that?

Plus, and this may be the best part of the whole thing, there would no longer be a reason for NBCSN to air “rivalry” games between teams that aren’t rivals. I like Liam McHugh, so I don’t like him having to pretend Detroit and Washington have a rivalry.

The NFL doesn’t require everyone to play everyone, although that’s mostly because players would literally die if they had to play 31 games. MLB doesn’t need every team to appear in every stadium and they play approximately 5,000 games per season. The NHL, despite its best efforts, is still a niche league, and the current schedule structure isn’t doing fans any favors.

Also, if the math on that schedule doesn’t add properly, that’s why I probably shouldn’t be NHL commissioner.

 

2. A bad, bad contract

I get a lot of Rangers questions, because I used to write about the Rangers a lot, but I try to avoid making this a Rangers-centric mailbag every week. Most people reading this do not care to read opinions about the usage of Tanner Glass and how moving Kevin Hayes from center to wing results in ripple effects throughout the lineup.

The contract of Dan Girardi, however, is a source of universal interest.

Here are the bullet points, which will be given in the form of bullet points.

  • Girardi is 31 years old
  • He has a $5.5 million cap hit through 2020, when he will be 36 years old
  • He has a no-move through the end of this season and a no-trade through the end of the 2018-19 season
  • His possession numbers have plummeted this season and have been in steady decline since 2012-13.

Girardi has logged a lot of minutes, absorbed a lot of punishment in his career and doesn’t figure to get better over the life of that contract. His mobility was never great and that’s slipped too. To make matters worse, the Rangers had Anton Stralman and essentially chose Girardi instead, which is like deciding in the 1980s to invest in Cabbage Patch Kids instead of Apple.

Every contract, however, is movable. There are two ways the Rangers can get Girardi off the books that don’t involve a buyout or stashing him in the AHL.

Girardi could be amenable to a trade, although he’d probably have to be threatened with playing in the minors. What team would take him? One that values grit and toughness, perhaps to a fault. There are always a few of them around. Maybe Edmonton, Boston, Calgary or Philadelphia? This wouldn’t happen for a while so who knows.

Another path toward ditching Girardi is through an expansion draft, assuming the NHL and NHLPA work something out that allows players with NMCs and NTCs to be made available. Girardi makes just $5 million in salary in 2017-18 and $4 million the last two years, so a team like Las Vegas or Quebec City or Seattle or whoever may find a veteran like Girardi with a contract that gets them near the cap floor to be attractive.

The contract is just a disaster. It’s the type of deal you’d get from, say, a GM that is about to retire, wants one more Stanley Cup and doesn’t care what happens after he leaves the team.

 

3. Who are the worst broadcasters?

– Marlon

Like, ever? I don’t know. The easy answer is Pierre McGuire but that’s trampled ground. Jokes about Pierre in 2015 are on par with the eighth season of Three’s Company; all the jokes have been made and also I miss John Ritter.

I’d like to ruin something for everyone, though. It’s a thing every announcer says that bothers no one but me. I bet after I point this out, you won’t be able to not hate it. I can’t wait to upset you, the reader.

A team is defending in its own zone. A player controls the puck. He moves it toward the blue line but it doesn’t get out of the zone. What does every announcer inevitably say to describe this situation?

“Cleared but not out.”

Cleared but not out. If the puck isn’t out, it was not cleared. The puck cannot be in the zone if it was cleared. Cleared but not out makes zero sense. If the bar for deciding if a puck is cleared is if a player moves it toward the blue line, the word cleared has lost all meaning.

Hopefully you will throw your remote through the TV the next time you hear cleared but not out.

 

4. Which 2016 UFA will be the biggest bust?

– Myron

David Backes. He will be 32 next season, has played a rugged, physical game throughout his career, and that next deal will probably be four or five years for about $6 million a season. His postseason numbers always disappoint. Someone is going to overpay.

There’s a chance he ages gracefully like Shane Doan, but some of that has to do with having familiarity with an organization and coach. Assuming Backes goes somewhere new, it could be an issue.

Doesn’t it feel like other sports free agency periods are way more, what’s the word, fun? In hockey, the players in their primes are almost always locked up long term by the teams that drafted them. LeBron James is flying around in the NBA, baseball players are opting out of megadeals and there’s always a few game-changing free agents in football.

In hockey, free agency is about avoiding catastrophic damage and most fans on July 1 rooting for their teams to not sign certain guys as opposed to going after players. Something seems off about that. Others sports’ free agency period is like checking lottery numbers; hockey’s free agency period is like waiting to get back the results of a medical test.

 

5. Sports and pop culture in one question!

I haven’t seen the new Star Wars. I haven’t seen a single episode of The Wire. I will answer this question anyway.

  • Michael Del Zotto is Blarn Nightengale and Jumpy Houhlihan. He’s a young, talented man still trying to find his way in a relatively new landscape.
  • Claude Giroux is Algo Mockson and Jesse Strapford. He’s a true leader but his flaws make him vulnerable against the Empire/Wire clippers.
  • Vinny Lecavalier is General Ingo and Streety Knifeguns. Once respected, all three are now having people come at them and they are definitely not missing or the droids you’re looking for.

 

6. If you had to choose between either fighting Shawn Thornton, blocking a Zdeno Chara slap shot with your groin or re-watching the first two seasons of The Leftovers, which would you choose?

– Madeline

The Thornton fight. Ideally, he’ll pummel me so badly that I won’t remember watching the first two seasons of The Leftovers.

If you want to be a part of next week’s mailbag, send a tweet to @davelozo.