The Grind of the NHL: Why Does NHL Schedule So Many Back to Back Games with Travel?

Benjamin Kenyon

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NHL Schedule So Many Back to Back Games with Travel

The National Hockey League, known for its fast-paced action and fierce competition, has a scheduling quirk that sets it apart from many other sports leagues: the frequent occurrence of back-to-back games with travel.

For avid hockey fans, this scheduling strategy may seem like a double-edged sword—providing more action but raising questions about player well-being. 

In this blog post, we delve into the reasons Why does NHL schedule so many back to back games with travel.

From the logistics of managing geographically dispersed teams to considerations about player fatigue and injury risks, there’s a method to this apparent madness. 

We’ll explore the factors that influence the NHL’s scheduling decisions and examine how they impact players, teams, and the overall fan experience. So, stay focused. 

NHL Schedule So Many Back to Back Games with Travel

The Demanding NHL Schedule

The demanding NHL (National Hockey League) schedule is a grueling and intense calendar of games that professional hockey teams must navigate throughout the regular season. 

Spanning roughly six months, typically from October to April, teams face a rigorous schedule of 82 games. 

This includes a combination of home and away games, often with back-to-back matchups, which can lead to extensive travel and little time for rest and recovery.

The NHL schedule is notorious for its physical demands on players, testing their endurance, skill, and mental fortitude. 

The league’s emphasis on parity means that there are no easy opponents, and every game carries significant importance in the quest for a playoff berth.

In addition to the regular season, players must also prepare for the playoffs, a highly competitive and physically demanding tournament that can extend the season by several months for successful teams. 

Managing the demanding NHL schedule is a testament to the resilience and dedication of both players and coaching staff.

Why Does NHL Schedule So Many Back to Back Games with Travel?

The NHL schedules many back-to-back games with travel for several reasons:

Geographic Distribution

The NHL has teams located across North America, from coast to coast. This geographical spread makes it challenging to create a schedule that minimizes travel. 

To ensure that all teams have a relatively equal number of games against each other, some back-to-back games with travel are necessary.

Arena Availability

NHL teams share arenas with other sports teams and events. These scheduling conflicts can lead to situations where back-to-back games are the only available option, especially in cities with multiple professional sports teams.

Television Broadcasts

The NHL relies heavily on television broadcasts for revenue. To maximize viewership, the league schedules games on specific days and times that are popular for TV audiences. 

This sometimes results in back-to-back games to accommodate the broadcasting schedule.

Player Health and Safety

While back-to-back games with travel can be physically demanding, the NHL has taken steps to address player health and safety. 

They’ve implemented rules and guidelines to ensure players have adequate rest between games and during road trips.

Shortened Season

In some cases, such as lockout-shortened seasons or the need to fit the NHL schedule within a specific timeframe (e.g., to accommodate international tournaments), back-to-back games may become more frequent.

The scheduling of back-to-back games with travel is a complex balancing act, considering various factors, including team locations, arena availability, TV contracts, and player well-being.

Potential Risks of Injuries And Player Burnout for Back-to-Back Games

Potential Risks of Injuries And Player Burnout for Back-to-Back Games

Back-to-back games in the NHL pose several potential risks to players, including injuries and burnout:

Increased Injury Risk

Fatigue from playing two games in two nights can lead to a higher risk of injuries. Players may not be as physically or mentally sharp, increasing the likelihood of accidents, collisions, and muscle strains.

Impact on Performance

Fatigue can significantly impact a player’s performance. Their reaction times may be slower, and their decision-making may suffer, affecting both individual and team performance.

Overuse Injuries

Back-to-back games can lead to overuse injuries, especially for players who log heavy minutes on the ice. 

Continuously taxing specific muscle groups and joints without sufficient recovery time can result in conditions like tendonitis and stress fractures.

Decreased Recovery Time

Inadequate time for rest and recovery between games can exacerbate existing injuries and hinder the body’s ability to heal properly. This can lead to chronic issues and longer recovery times.

Increased Risk of Concussions

Fatigued players may be more vulnerable to head injuries, including concussions, due to impaired balance and coordination.

Mental Fatigue

Back-to-back games not only strain players physically but also mentally. The stress of performing at a high level in quick succession can lead to mental fatigue and reduced focus.

Long-Term Health Concerns

Repeated exposure to back-to-back games throughout a season and over several seasons can have long-term health consequences for players, potentially impacting their post-career quality of life.

Player Burnout

The demanding schedule can contribute to player burnout, leading to decreased motivation, increased frustration, and, in some cases, early retirement.

To mitigate these risks, the NHL has implemented rules and guidelines to ensure players have sufficient rest between games and during road trips. 

This includes limits on practice time and the number of games played in a certain time frame.

Recent Changes or Innovations In NHL Scheduling

NHL hadn’t introduced any groundbreaking or revolutionary changes to its scheduling. However, the league has continually explored ways to enhance the schedule for the benefit of players and fans. 

Here are some potential changes and innovations that could have been considered or implemented:

Divisional Realignment

The NHL has made occasional adjustments to its divisional alignment to address travel concerns and create more balanced competition. 

For example, the league implemented temporary realignments during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce travel and enhance player safety.

Extended Breaks

Some seasons have featured extended breaks for NHL players to participate in international tournaments, such as the Olympics or the World Cup of Hockey. 

These breaks provide players with opportunities to represent their countries and recover from the rigors of the regular season.

Incorporation of Analytics

Teams have increasingly used advanced analytics and data-driven insights to optimize their schedules. 

This can include monitoring player workload, travel fatigue, and other factors to make informed decisions about rest and recovery.

Back-to-Back Reduction

To minimize player fatigue and injury risks, the NHL may have explored ways to reduce the number of back-to-back games in the schedule. 

This could involve improved scheduling algorithms and accommodations for longer rest periods between games.

Global Expansion

The NHL has explored the possibility of expanding its global footprint by hosting regular-season games in international locations. These events not only promote the sport but also introduce new scheduling challenges.

Fan Engagement

The league continually looks for ways to engage fans through scheduling, including special events like outdoor games, themed nights, and promotional campaigns designed to boost attendance and viewership.

COVID-19 Adaptations

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to make various scheduling adaptations, including shortened seasons, divisional realignments, and strict health and safety protocols. 

Some of these changes may have influenced future scheduling decisions.

Flexible Scheduling

The NHL has experimented with flexible scheduling to showcase high-profile matchups and accommodate TV broadcast preferences. 

This flexibility allows for changes in game times and dates based on the significance of the game.

It’s important to note that the NHL constantly evaluates its scheduling practices and considers innovations to improve the sport’s quality and sustainability.

NHL’s Scheduling Practices to Other Major Sports Leagues

NHL's Scheduling Practices to Other Major Sports Leagues

The NHL’s scheduling practices differ in several ways from those of other major sports leagues, such as the NFL (National Football League), NBA (National Basketball Association), MLB (Major League Baseball), and MLS (Major League Soccer). Here are some key distinctions:

Frequency of Games

The NHL has a more condensed schedule compared to leagues like the NFL and MLB. NHL teams typically play 82 games in the regular season, whereas NFL teams play just 16 games and MLB teams play 162 games. 

This results in a higher frequency of games and more back-to-back matchups in the NHL.


NHL teams have extensive travel schedules due to the league’s geographic spread across North America. 

This can lead to more challenging travel demands compared to leagues like the NFL, where teams play fewer games and typically have one game per week.

Back-to-Back Games

The NHL is known for its back-to-back games, where teams play on consecutive nights. 

While this is relatively common in the NBA and MLB, the frequency of back-to-backs in the NHL is often cited as a unique challenge.

Playoff Format

The NHL playoffs involve a best-of-seven series in each round, making it one of the most extended playoff formats in professional sports. This contrasts with the NFL’s single-elimination playoff structure.

International Competition

The NHL has a higher level of international competition with the participation of players from around the world. 

This can impact scheduling, especially during Olympic years when the league may take a break for players to compete in the Winter Olympics.

Outdoor Games

The NHL incorporates outdoor games into its schedule, such as the Winter Classic and Stadium Series. These events are unique and add an element of spectacle not typically seen in other leagues.

Flexible Scheduling

The NHL occasionally employs flexible scheduling to highlight marquee matchups or accommodate television broadcast preferences. This flexibility allows for changes in game times and dates.

Regular Season Duration

The NHL’s regular season typically spans from October to April, while other leagues may have shorter regular seasons. For example, the NFL regular season lasts about four months.

In-Season Breaks

The NHL occasionally has in-season breaks for events like the All-Star Game or, in some years, for international competitions like the Olympics.

The NHL’s scheduling practices are unique due to the nature of ice hockey, its geographical distribution, and the demands of its regular season and playoff format.


Why does the NHL schedule so many back-to-back games with travel?

The NHL schedules back-to-back games primarily due to the league’s geographic dispersion. 

Teams are spread across North America, making it challenging to minimize travel. Back-to-back games help ensure balanced competition while managing logistical constraints.

Do back-to-back games affect player performance and safety?

Yes, back-to-back games can impact player performance and safety. Fatigue from playing on consecutive nights can lead to injuries and decreased performance due to reduced rest and recovery time.

How does the NHL address player concerns about back-to-back games?

The NHL has implemented rules and guidelines to address player concerns. These include limits on practice time, mandatory rest days, and efforts to minimize travel fatigue to prioritize player well-being.

Are there any benefits to scheduling back-to-back games in the NHL?

While challenging, back-to-back games allow for a more compact schedule, potentially reducing the length of the regular season and maintaining fan engagement. They also test the resilience and adaptability of players and teams.

Could the NHL reduce the frequency of back-to-back games in the future?

The NHL continually evaluates scheduling practices to balance competitive fairness and player safety. 

While reducing back-to-back games is possible, it must be done while considering logistical challenges and maintaining the integrity of the schedule.

Wrapping Up

In the world of professional sports, every league has its unique challenges, and the NHL is no exception. 

While the scheduling of back-to-back games with travel may raise concerns about player health and safety, it’s a complex puzzle that the league continually strives to solve. 

Balancing the demands of competitive fairness, and the well-being of its athletes is a perpetual challenge for the NHL, and understanding the reasons behind their scheduling choices offers a deeper appreciation. 

As fans, we may yearn for more games, but we must also recognize the sacrifices and resilience of the players who lace up their skates night after night to entertain us with the sport we love. Best wishes. 

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Benjamin Kenyon

With over eight years of experience in higher education, I bring a diverse skill set to the Head Men's Ice Hockey Coach role. My background spans collegiate hockey coaching, recruiting, compliance, budget management, game operations, public and media relations, marketing strategies, content development, social media management, press release distribution, broadcasting, video production, non-linear editing, sports photography, interpersonal communications, sports writing, interviewing, sports analytics, and statistics. My educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Sports Management, further enhancing my qualifications for this position. I am proficient in various software and platforms, including Adobe Creative Suite, social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn), and academic management systems (Salesforce, CAMS, Workday, Banner). My extensive experience and technical proficiency make me a well-rounded candidate for leading the men's ice hockey program.

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