Talking About Realignment

The somewhat inaccurate graphic above comes from the Toronto Star. Apparently no one bothered to check into the updated team logos. Is it the early 90s in St. Louis? The Buffaslug is back? Really?

Over the past few days, likely because it’s July and hockey people need something to discuss, everyone has been talking about NHL realignment. We’re no different.

Numerous plans have been discussed and, really, no one is happy. The most common scenario would see Detroit and Winnipeg swapping conferences. The Jets would go into the Central and, presumably, the Wings would head to the Southeast. That makes some sense from a geographical standpoint, but it also makes a lot of people angry.

First of all, moving Winnipeg to the Central would make that team the only Canadian franchise in that group. While Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary would have each other in the Northwest and Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa would be in the Northeast, Winnipeg would be stuck without a Canadian rival.

But the fans in Winnipeg aren’t the only people who are annoyed by this suggestion. Moving Detroit to the East would certainly help travel times, but it would also leave Chicago as the only Original Six team in the West while also splitting up the Wings and Hawks. This would possibly cool down their rivalry. While the Wings would find new natural rivals in Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Pittsburgh, etc. who would the Hawks’ new number one rival be? Vancouver? Too far.

The problem with realignment in the NHL is that in almost every instance, geography or traditional rivalries get in the way. Just like we’d all want Detroit and Chicago to stay in the same division, we also want to keep teams like Montreal and Boston together. The same with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the New York teams, the Western Canadian teams, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and so on.

To make matters even more complicated, both Nashville and Columbus would like to move to the East. This also makes a great deal of sense from a travel standpoint, but it really can’t happen from a numbers perspective.

And then there’s the Phoenix Coyotes. To be honest, as long as they are teetering on the brink of relocation, the NHL likely won’t announce any realignment plans. If the Coyotes move, they will almost certainly go to an eastern market and cause a whole new set of problems.

There are 16 NHL teams in the Eastern time zone. The league could split the divisions by time zone exactly and end up with four divisions (Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern) but the number of teams in each division would not be even. That’s the difficulty you face when your sport is much more popular in Canada and the northeastern United States than anywhere else in the continent.

Whatever the NHL’s realignment plan turns out to be, it will be a long and messy process getting to the final goal.

Comments (13)

  1. One Conference to rule them all.

    30 teams…top 16 make the playoffs. Real simple.

  2. Curt – congratulations, you’ve just spiked teams’ travel budgets by 50% if not more.

    It’s like the ludicrous idea from the Star’s terrible article proposing an all-Canadian division, and one with LA / ANA / SJ / PHO / DAL / TB / FLA. Because that’s what the Panthers need to stay afloat: multiple trips to the west coast every year.

    Move Columbus to the East as a start. They’d much rather play the Pens than the Wings as their closest division rival, anyway – not to mention the potential road trips for Leaf fans (works for TFC, right?)

  3. http://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?msid=218408370269043250845.0004a6d15db6c3630e926&msa=0&ll=39.639538,-97.119141&spn=48.31944,92.8125

    I came up with this. 2 conferences (15 teams in each), 2 divisions per… Top 4 teams in each division make playoffs. Very little rivalries touched. Travel costs almost the same.

  4. The Panthers would not stay afloat any better in a division that features Tampa Bay, San Jose, Los Angeles (who are one solid, consistent, goaltending performance away from being a mainstay in the playoffs), Anaheim, and Dallas (who were one win away from the playoffs this year.). They will stay afloat better, because their team will be much better than it has been in the past.

    On the topic of travel budgets; an all-Canadian division would increase the travel expenses of teams from some of the smallest markets in the NHL (Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, to a lesser extent.)

    Putting Columbus or Detroit in the Eastern Conference would mean that the other Divisions in the East would have to be rearranged, eventually moving Philadelphia to the Southeast… Nearly Destroying the Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh rivalry. The League shouldn’t want that.

    Moving Winnipeg to the Northwest, Minnesota to the Central, and Nashville to the Southeast does the least damage to the league, and it’s big rivalries.

  5. Change the league to 2 conferences, with 4 divisions total, the North and East divisions in the Eastern Conference, and the West and Midwest divisions in the Western Conference.

    North Division (8 teams):
    Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit, Boston, New York, Long Island

    East Division (8 teams):
    Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, Carolina, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Florida

    West Division (7 teams):
    San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary

    Midwest Division (7 teams):
    Winnipeg, Colorado, Minnesota, Chicago, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis
    -
    This will give each conference an even amount of teams (16 and 14), which makes scheduling easier.
    The cities in each of their own divisions are within 1 hour of the same time zone.
    -
    Another change that would be fun is mixing up the playoff format.
    If the realignment were to create 4 divisions, why not have 4 teams from each division make the post-season.
    Those 4 teams would playoff in a 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3, then the winners play each other for the Division title.
    The winners of each Division play for the Conference Championship.
    The winners of each Conference play for the Stanley Cup.
    There are no more or no less rounds, just a nice little change of scenery.

  6. Problem is Detroit wants to move east. Regardless of what’s done, when Phoenix eventually gets moved, they’ll probably end up in the east somewhere (Quebec, Hamilton…)

  7. I like Seguin’s idea (the google map), except as a Jets fan, it puts us at the lame table with the single uncles, unfunny cousins and weird girl from work.

  8. When I first heard talk of re-alignment the solution seemed really obvious to me; Switch Winnipeg with Nashville. Not exactly rocket science.

    But then I heard the unbalanced Conference idea, which doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever, and realized, that this being the least logical concept, is most likely the way Bettman will try to go .

    So here’s a thought:
    Two Conferences
    16 in the West, 14 in the East
    4 divisions(3 of eight, 1 of Six-The Original Six)

  9. Just change the regular season to a 58 game schedule. Every team plays every other team in the league home and away once per season. At the end of the season, the top 16 team make the playoffs with 1 playing 16 etc.

    The season is way too long as it is, and you could put in a couple weeks break over Xmas. This way the young kids could still play in the world juniors, while the older guys get some much needed time off.

  10. Jon – right. So who’s going to tell the players that they have to take a 33% salary cut?

    The NHL is, as far as I know, the only league in sports history to ever cut the number of games played per year. And that was by a grand total of two, when they got rid of the neutral site games.

  11. Why not drop Colorado into the pacific and add Winnipeg to the Northwest, and send Dallas east? Keeps most of the rivalries and it’s not shaking up the league too much. Dallas already travels to the west coast… it’s not too much farther to the east coast.

  12. Interesting … I thought Winnipeg WAS the weird girl from work …

  13. Four divisions, no conference

    North: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, Boston, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, New Jersey
    East: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Washington
    Central: Winnipeg, Minnesota, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Colorado
    West: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix.

    Top 4 in each division in the playoffs (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3); winners play each other. Division Winners are then re-seeded (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3), winners play for the Cup

    Scheduling:

    Teams in Central & West (7 teams each) play their division rivals 6 times (6 x 6 = 36 games) and other teams twice (2 x 23 = 46 games). Total 82.

    Teams in East and North (8 teams each) play their division rivals 5 times with one extra game bewteen teams finishing (1-2-3-4) or finishing (5-6-7-8) the previous season (5 x 7 = 35 + 3 = 38 games). Other teams are played twice (2 x 22 = 44 games). Total 82.

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