As soon as the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg we started talking about realignment. It’s already known that the Jets will be moving out of the Southeast Division after this season, but only recently has the NHL sat down to actually discuss the league realignment plan. The NHL Board of Governors’ first formal discussions on realignment took place yesterday and the goal is to have a plan in place by December.
“Obviously we have to make arrangements to move Winnipeg west, and we had an opportunity to explore the issues,” Commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL.com. “No conclusions were reached, but it’s something I’m hopeful we can resolve at the December meeting.”
Several teams want to move from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. Three teams that have expressed interest in doing so are Detroit, Nashville and Columbus. Obviously all three cannot move. So what will the league do? Numerous ideas have been tossed around, including a Canadian division which would just be awful for travel. That idea should be dropped immediately, no matter how cool Canadians think it is.
One idea that is pretty popular is returning to four divisions and having divisional playoffs once again. Puck Daddy discussed this idea yesterday and it’s an appealing one. The divisional playoffs, where four teams from each division battle it out for a division title before heading onto a conference title is certainly a good one and it’s what the league used to do. However, 30 isn’t divisible by four, which means you’d have uneven divisions.
Two divisions of eight and two divisions of seven would work, but that would mean that it would be easier to make the playoffs in some divisions (you’d only have to beat three teams in some divisions to qualify.) Of course, you could just have the top one or two teams in each division qualify, but that would make the playoffs shorter and no one really wants that.
There’s also one other question.The situation still isn’t clear with the Phoenix Coyotes. If the NHL decided to restructure the league in December, it would still be organized by location somehow in order to make travel easier. However, what if Phoenix moves? And what if they move east? Someone else would have to jump to the west and it would likely be whichever team just moved out of the Western Conference (Columbus, Nashville or Detroit.) There are currently a few NHL teams on unstable ground. If any of those teams moved, it would be back to the drawing board in terms of realignment. Frequent realignment would be a mess.
NHL realignment a complicated situation and it’s one that needs to be solved relatively shortly.
“Hopefully we’ll get it done by December because we have to do the following year’s schedule, and in order to do the schedule you have to figure out how many times everybody is playing each other,” Bettman said. “So, if we’re going to the scheduling process in the ordinary course, which normally starts in the early winter, we need to understand how many times teams are going to be playing each other.”
If a team relocates, the NHL will likely need to realign once again. With the current state of the league as it is, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of realignment discussions in the future.