Before I start into part II of this series. Let me preface that I totally understand my ideas would not necessarily be approved by the Board of Governors or the owners who are essentially the Commissioner's bosses. These are changes I would make to the league if I held full power over the way the NHL is run.
One factor that is never looked into when the league office attempts to better the game is shortening the NHL schedule. I understand the business decision behind why. More games means more money. But as Commissioner my number one goal would be to improve the on ice product. What a dream world I live in.
If the NHL shortened it's season by 25% that would cut the season to roughly 62 games. Assuming teams remained playing 13 games/month that would mean the season would last from October to mid/late March, eliminating one entire month off the regular season.
Add on the potential two full months of playoff hockey and the Stanley Cup is awarded to the champs in May. A much better option that June. Of course the NHLPA would have to agree to this as player salaries would be cut by 25% as well.
Hockey's a winter sport and one of the few ways to maximize viewership is to have the season over before the weather all over North America is pleasant enough for everyone to be thinking outdoor activities.
Another benefit of a 60+ game season would be the importance of each and every game on the schedule. No team could afford slumps or lulls at any point in the season and thus the games would conceivably be much more exciting. One of the most exciting regular seasons was the lock out shortened season where only 40+ games were played.
Most teams were healthy in the playoffs and thus better hockey was played. Over an 82 game schedule these players are banged up and in a lot of cases you can notice the teams that are simply burned out.
Playoff qualification would no longer see the divisional champions automatically get seeded first to third in the conference. A playoff spot would be guaranteed however. (This may be a change the NHL is set to implement already. I know I heard that somewhere but could not confirm).
I think if the divisional champs were not guaranteed such a high seed in the conference the league would see less concentration on divisional games and less duds between two conference or non-conference teams as all points would be equally important.
Playoff schedules would be altered as well. Welcomed back would be the alternating of conferences every other day. Nothing seems to kill momentum in a playoff series like these 2 or 3 day layoffs so that NBC can televise a specific game on the weekend.
If you want to best sell your product to mainstream America you should show them everything you got, as opposed to ensuring the Rangers, Red Wings or Penguins are on TV. I understand that these are the big market teams but do the "small" market cities really, truly want to only see these teams, I would guess not. Each series would see both teams get 1 day rest between games.
So to recap. The NHL would have a regular season that ended in late March, playing fewer games which should curb the rate of injuries to players resulting in fresher teams for the most important and exciting portion of the NHL calendar, the playoffs.
Divisional champs would be guaranteed a playoff berth but not a top three seed in the conference and both conferences would alternate days of play though out the post-season and NBC would select the best game to televise.