Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Building The Perfect Schedule

Originally posted at NHL.com

When the NHL's schedule doctor, Steve Hatze-Petros, begins the first drafts of what the playoff schedule will look like about a month before the season comes to a close, there are almost 30 teams still alive in the race.

Hatze-Petros, Group Vice President of Scheduling and Strategic Planning, has been working on NHL regular season and playoff schedules for two decades. He keeps track of the constant flow and flux of information on a giant color-coded grease board on the wall of his office. He's got the Eastern Conference standings on the left, the Western ledger on the right, a list of five different broadcast networks, and across the top half of the five-foot wide board is the ever-changing set of playoff matchups.

Hatze-Petros sat down with NHL.com during his busiest and most hectic time of the year to talk about what he goes through in constructing the playoff schedule every spring.

How do you go about organizing the playoff schedule?
"We start keeping track of potential matchups in the playoffs about 30 days in advance. When you're 30 days out, you wind up seeing probably every combination that could possibly happen. Our preparation on a daily basis is getting a new schedule out with the possible matchups."

It looks organized?
"You came in at the right time. We only had two games last night, so you saw me make the quick change right now on the board and nothing really moved. But after tonight's games, tomorrow morning will be a little hectic in getting in the matchups."

What's the biggest challenge?
"Like anything else in the schedule-making process, there's not just one challenge. I can't say it's just buildings, I can't say it's just television, I can't just say it's competitive issues. It's all of those. It's probably the busiest day of the year. Last year, we took over 300 calls in that one day.

What is your final deadline to have the first-round schedule completed?
"Ideally, and I say this every year, I want to get it out as soon as possible. Unfortunately, something always happens ... the moment you make a change at that time, it's a domino effect."

Of the hundreds of phone calls your office receives on Sunday, who exactly is calling you?
"Basically what it comes down to is broadcasters and teams. I'll speak to the NBA because we keep in contact with them because our seasons kind of coincide in terms of where they start and where they end. Sometimes we do get the odd fan or someone that gets through, I don't know how?"

How many rough drafts of the schedule will be created before the final product?
"Workable drafts, since we go a month out, close to 70 I'd say.

Everyone says that parity is great, but having the standings so close must make your job harder?
"Although I can't take credit for it, I think it's great that the schedule's this awesome the last month of the season."

How does this process work for subsequent rounds?
"It becomes easier. There's less inventory though. So that's where the networks really come in and make sure they hit every window. Our goal is to make sure there's a hockey game every night."

How early do you start looking at the second round?
"After Game 4 in each series we start looking at it."

How long have you been doing the schedule?
"Fifteen years. It hasn't gotten any easier. We obviously rank every possibility. We have a program that we've written, that will show you at any possible time, what the possibility is for each team finishing as far as seedings are concerned.

Do you have a background in mathematics or probability?
"Accounting and finance, actually. When I was hired by the League, I was hired in the finance department. That was 20 years ago."

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