The way this thing gets won is gonna be dumb soon.

The way this thing gets won is gonna be dumb soon.

So the NHL and NHLPA are finally going to go forward with a plan to change the configuration of the league, from having two 15-team conferences each with three five-team divisions to two conferences, one of which has two eight-team divisions and the other with with two seven-team divisions. Logistically, this is bad and stupid, as are most things the NHL decides these days.

But in terms of the actual way in which they’re going about this — mostly moving Detroit and Columbus into the Eastern Conference and replacing them only with Winnipeg — at least makes geographical sense and, as has been pointed out by just about everyone since the plan was unveiled last Saturday, will really make the league and its televisions partners happy. To say nothing of the fans who are sick of hearing the Red Wings complain about their travel every few months. All of this, it should be noted, has only reached the “proposal” stages but most people who would know about this sort of stuff are talking like it’s going to be a thing in real life sooner than later, so let’s just go with this.

The idea that Western Conference teams — in what Pierre LeBrun says will be the “Pacific” and “Midwest” Divisions (RIP Directional Divisions; the Central is moving East to be with the Atlantic) — would have fewer divisional opponents than their Eastern counterparts makes a lot of sense. It cuts down on all that travel, for one thing; it never made a whole lot of sense that Vancouver, for instance, should have to play divisional games against a team literally halfway across a continent while the farthest the New York Rangers had to travel to do the same was on the other side of Pennsylvania, but not even all the way to the end of it. This sorts all of that out. Most teams in the East, save for those moving over from the West, will have slightly longer trips for divisional games, and those in the West get their load lightened ever so slightly. As has often been pointed out, these divisions are now divided up by time zones, too, so that makes it easier for fans who don’t want to stay up until all hours of the night watching their teams get clobbered by the Canucks or whatever.

The only objection anyone can logically have is unavoidable until the league adds two more teams, as is clearly its plan. Having two seven-team divisions and two eight-team divisions is inherently unfair, but there’s nothing to be done about it, really. Not in a league with only 30 teams. So you add Seattle and Kansas City or whatever over the next five years and you’re back to where you need to be. At least in theory, because that’s far easier said than done. And also Phoenix can’t move. Which seems impossible.

It should be said that I, along with most people in a very informal survey of my memory of the time, was very much opposed to the non-sensical garbage realignment plan being pushed last year, which was summarily and correctly rejected by the NHLPA on the grounds that it was terrible. It seemed to exist solely to mollify the colicky cries of executives in the front offices at Joe Louis Arena (as did a Winter Classic being held in Michigan, if we’re being honest) and generally served to screw over the left-behind Western Conference teams who would likely have had to travel a lot more than they already did.

But with those unbalanced-by-necessity divisions comes the NHL once again bringing back divisional playoffs, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. Bob McKenzie explains:

1. Top 3 teams in each of two 8-team East conferences make the playoffs. Two wild cards from remaining 10 East teams also make the playoffs.

2. Top 3 teams in each of two 7-team West conferences make playoffs. Two wild cards from remaining 8 West teams also make the playoffs.

3. Playoff format remains old divisional style, 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 though it remains to be seen how the wild cards are slotted for first-round.

4. For playoffs, East or West, wild card team with fewest points gets seeded 4th vs division winner with highest points.

5. Wild card team with most points would be 4th seed in division vs the second-ranked division winner. 2 vs 3 within division is constant.

Obviously, therefore, it will be easier for teams in the West to make the playoffs than in the East. I took a look at last year’s standings just to see where things got us (and obviously the results of teams’ season point totals would be very different without Detroit in the West, but bear with me here). Overall I would say the East also got tougher to play in, given that it’s adding Detroit, and I figure that on the whole, swapping Winnipeg for Columbus is more or less a wash in terms of easy Ws.

Under these rules and this conference alignment, the playoffs would have looked like this:

1. Rangers (109 points)
2. Penguins (108)
3. Flyers (103)

1. Bruins (102)
2. Red Wings (102)
3. Florida (94)

Wild Cards:
1. Devils (102)
2. Capitals (92)

As you can see, the shift of the Red Wings to the East bumps Ottawa out of a playoff spot, and also once again guarantees preferential seeding to Florida, which had 94 points but was the three-seed in the East by virtue of its having won the Southeast. That’s awful. The point of the regular should be giving the best teams the best chance to win in the playoffs, which was always something division winners getting top seeds didn’t allow.

Now let’s look at the West, which is even dumber.

1. Blues (109)
2. Nashville (104)
3. Blackhawks (101)

1. Canucks (111)
2. Coyotes (97)
3. Sharks (96)

Wild Cards:
1. Los Angeles (95)
2. Calgary (90)

It goes without saying, I think, that any playoff format that allows last year’s Calgary Flames to make a postseason tournament of any kind that isn’t the IIHF World Championships should be buried like toxic waste and never heard from again. The quality of the West certainly suffers without Detroit, and if you have four teams between 90 and 97 points making the playoffs, well, I guess that makes the West the new East in terms of bad teams squeezing in.

We’ve been told that this plan will encourage more rivalries between divisional rivals. Sure, okay, I can’t wait to be hyped for Bruins/Panthers games or whatever. But basically what’s going to happen is the first two rounds of the playoffs are going to be the same every single year for some time, because the Canucks couldn’t play the Blackhawks, for instance, until at least the third round of the playoffs. I don’t see how that’s smart at all.

Comments (35)

  1. so you’re angry that Florida would have gotten a 6 seed instead of a 7 seed…when they currently get the THREE seed?

  2. Yeah, I gotta say, I don’t quite get your anti-playoffs argument. Florida’s ranking is more commensurate to their points total (3rd to 6th), and–as shocking as it is–Calgary came 9th last season. If you pull Detroit out of the West, they were the 8th best team.

    That being said, I’m not looking forward to the same divisional rounds over and over and over, either. Actually, I like the Wild Card, in that sense, because it mitigates the repetition w/ at least SOME cross over.

    I give it a PASS.

  3. Andrew, I think the point is that the playoff format is changing, so why maintain that an inferior team should get any advantage based on division.

    Playoffs should be best 16 teams, period. Barring that, With the imbalance in # of teams, the east should have 7 teams, the west should have 7 teams, and the top two teams in points across divisions that didn’t make the playoffs should get a wildcard spot. Last year’s playoff picture:

    1. rangers
    2. penguins
    3. flyers
    4. bruins (imaginary tie breaker…)
    5. wings
    6. devils
    7. florida
    8. Washington (wild card)

    1. canucks
    2. blues
    3. preds
    4. hawks
    5. yotes
    6. san jose
    7. los angeles
    8. Ottawa (wild card, lost the tie break so they have to face the better team/ travel more)

    • It’d never work, because you’re suggesting a Vancouver/Ottawa 1st Round matchup, which are like 4000km apart.

    • Yeah, you can’t penalize Vancouver for winning the Presidents Trophy and having to travel to Ottawa. I like the idea in theory though.

  4. The quality argument doesn’t really hold up for something that is intended to last beyond one season. Detroit used to suck. Pittsburgh used to suck. Calgary used to be good. Edmonton used to be good. Things change, especially in a league where parity is an obvious goal (unlike say, college football, where you know there are certain teams that have the ability to simply outspend their competition).

  5. I don’t like the idea of expansion, especially when you are looking at the biggest markets without a team include Seattle, Kansas City, Quebec City, Atlanta and Las Vegas have almost all already had a team and needed to relocate, but I only like this format if you have 32 teams…

    They really need to just have 2 15-team conference’s and the top 8 get in. Expansion also causes the talent pool to be diluted. It is already hard to field 30 competitive teams.

    • You could also argue for contraction, down to 28 teams, and thus four divisions/conferences/whatever they want to call it of 7.

  6. This article: bad

  7. Adding two teams to the west and just having the top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs isn’t going to fix the fact that there are a ton of awful teams in the west. It will, in fact, just make it even worse.

  8. I agree, because to make one team happy (Detroit) you’re effectively creating a league-wide imbalance for everyone else. Keep Detroit in the West, 15 teams per conference (one 8 team division, one 7 team division), top 3 in each division plus two wildcards from the remaining teams go through, which is 8 of 15 in each conference. Fair?

    • Why leave Detroit in the West when Winnipeg belongs their and Detroit does not?

    • *there* (I know grammar)

    • Detroit is getting special treatment by being moved to the East. It’s silly. Columbus would benefit from being in their own (or near their own) time zone much more than Detroit would. Detroit does well financially, let’s help the teams that need it rather than catering to those that don’t.

  9. It would be easier to drop 2 east teams (Columbus and Florida) than expand especially given the state of many of the franchises in the NHL rather then expand (of course that would never happen) would fix unevenness.

    Or just leave Columbus in the midwest, its only an hour difference that for the majority of their games.

    In terms of the playoff format, they should keep the 4 divisions for travel. But seed the top 8 based on point totals regardless of division guaranteeing the best teams playoff hockey.

  10. The Florida argument doesn’t make any sense. Under the old system, they were able to get home ice by winning a weak division. The divisional system eliminates that, as Florida would only have home ice if they met either of the 4 seeds.

    Divisional inequities are also addressed. Florida would have had home ice against Philly or the Pens had they met in later rounds, in spite of playing in a weaker division. Now, if they come out of the Central playdowns, they would only have home ice against the Devils – and that’s only if the NHL chooses to go by seeding, not by points, in determining home ice in the conference finals.

    So we’ve gone from Florida having a home-ice advantage over five teams to Florida having home-ice over two (based on seeding) or one (based on points). That’s a better system, not a worse one.

  11. (Also, it should be noted that scheduling changes alone would likely tweak the points standings into something more acceptable.)

  12. Tired of hearing the Red Wings complain about their travel? Because no one in the Atlantic division has complained even a little bit about Winnipeg. Right.

    • To be fair, the fact that Winnepeg is still in the East is completely silly. Columbus is closer to the eastern teams than Detroit is. It sucks for Detroit, but they are kind of right in the middle geographically…

  13. Ugh, forget the divisions.

    Top 8 teams in each conference are in – in order of points. Keep Detroit in the West (sorry, you’re not that important), move Winnepeg to the West and Columbus to the East.

    1 NYR
    2 PIT
    3 PHI
    4 BOS
    5 NJ
    6 FLA
    7 WSH
    8 OTT

    1 VAN
    2 STL
    3 NSH
    4 DET
    5 CHI
    6 PHX
    7 SJ
    8 LA



  14. Detroit is the only team benefiting from this realignment and it makes the playoff system horrible because of it. They need to keep everything else the way it is and move Nashville to the southeast division and Winnipeg to the Central. Easy fix.

    • Yep. It’s simple and doesn’t cause any problems. I get why Detroit would want to be in the east, but as the saying goes “You don’t always get what you want.”

  15. How about cutting back on the number of teams? We all know its a waste when cities (not teams/players) like Carolina, TBay, Anaheim or LA win the cup. NO ONE THERE CARES! Do it progressively via bankruptcy. Whenever a team like phoenix can’t pay their bills, instead of the NHL stepping in and propping them up while they look for another poor sap to buy the debt-riddled money pit, just straight up fold the franchise like any other reasonable business would. Bettman & Co. will obviously never go with this because they won’t admit that Southern expansion was a terrible idea but I digress.

    Could you imagine how good the hockey would be with 24 or 28 teams?

    • As someone who has been around LA and Anaheim during their cup wins, I can safely say that a whole lot of people care.

    • So I assume that you were in favour of folding Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa during the late 90s when the teams were two steps away from being bankrupt?

      Hell, Montreal wasn’t selling out for most of the late 90s. Obviously, no one cared there.

  16. The NHL is so stupid. Move Winnipeg to the Northwest, bump Vancouver to the Pacific (or Colorado) and put Dallas in the Southeast. Or even put Winnipeg in the Central and Nashville in the Southeast. I use to love hockey, but honestly just can’t stand this league and its moronic decisions anymore….can’t wait until it expands the playoffs to make the regular season even more meaningless.

    • How is the regular season more meaningless now than in the past? Fewer teams as a percentage of the league qualify for the playoffs than at any point in the league’s history. If anything, the regular season is MORE important, because you don’t have 80s Norris situations happening anymore where playoff qualification is determined by who fails the least.

  17. Lol … Dude has to be American. Not sure if he has looked recently at standings. Jets 4-1 on recent road trip and ahead of rangers & flyers. Easy w ?


  19. I thought someone already said that if the 5 in a div is higher than the 4 in the other div, you get a cross-over?

  20. OK, so :
    1- Detroit would like to move East
    2- Columbus would like regional rivalries with teams close to them (i.e. Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh)
    3- Dallas is sick of having all their road divisionnal games two time zones away
    4- Winnipeg has to move West.
    5- Minnesota and Colorado want more US teams in their division

    How about :
    - No conferences
    - 5 divisions of 6 teams
    VAN, ANA, SJ, LA, COL, PHX (whether they stay or move to Seattle)
    split the rest (current Northeast and Atlantic + Detroit and Columbus) in two groups of 6 to preserve historical rivalries. They’re close enough already.

    The 5 division champs + 11 wild cards make the playoffs. The division champs are garanteed no worse than 8th seed (so they get home ice advantage for 1 round), and then 1 plays against 16, 2 against 15, etc.

    OK, there might be huge travel in the 1st round of the playoffs, but you could also get an awesome finals between huge rivals, which can never happen in the current format.

    • This is the best idea I’ve heard yet.

      NE: Tor, Ott, Buf, Mtl, Bos, Det
      Atlantic: NYR, NYI, NJ, Columbus, Philly, Pitt

      Schedule Matrix: 6 games X 5 teams (intra-division) = 30
      2 games X 24 teams (inter-division) = 48
      1 extra game vs. the 1 team in each of the other divisions that finished in the same slot the previous year (so the five #1 seeds play a round robin, etc…) = 4

    • If this happens we are basically arguing over the same problem. what if there is a really bad division and none of the teams should get in.

      I’m honestly sick of all the arguments being made about the way the points and playoffs work. who cares!

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