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Last year, the NHL proposed a brand new four division format that was well received by the NHL fans and media. It placed teams in eight or seven team divisions with the prospects of having two expansion teams in the future. The proposal was rejected by the NHLPA because it was actually a dirty PR tactic to leave the players out of a decision they have to agree on which the public was going to be receptive to, even without looking at the numbers. That rejection is why Winnipeg still plays in the Southeast division and any team that plays them in their own division is going to be jet lagged. Don’t blame the players on that one, folks.
So what would be the best system for realignment? You have to take several factors into consideration. I love realignment. Don’t ask me why, but the topic gets my brain pistons firing as I try to fit the NHL teams in their best places possible. With this, I bring you the LR NHL Realignment and will try to explain it the best of my ability.
The NHL will still include Two Conferences (East/West) but will now expand to Eight Divisions. What is new in the system is Division Pairings. These are two divisions that play each other more than the other divisions int he same conference. So why not just combine these divisions? Because some divisions work better for others. There are Four Pairings.
The games are broken down as such:
Inter Division Play: x6 (18 games)
Pairing Division Play: x4 (16 games)
Inter Conference Play: x3 (24 games)
Pairing Conference Play: x2 (16 games)
Distant Pairing Play: x1 (8 games)
Total: 82 Games
I will state right now to make the numbers a little interesting that you could play your inter division only five times to make it a 79 game season. This would allow for an open game called a Rival Game. The rival changes every season but would start focused on an inter division team before teams would consider other rivals. So for example, Colorado plays Dallas and St. Louis plays Nashville for one extra game, but the next season it’s Dallas playing Nashville and St. Louis playing Colorado.
The Western Conference
The biggest addition to the Western Conference is an expansion Seattle which for the purposes of this, I’ll be calling the Seattle Metropolitans.
West Coast Pairing
Northwest Division: Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Seattle Metropolitans
Pacific Division: San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes
North American Midwest Pairing
North mid Division: Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings
Midwest Division: Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Bluejackets
The Eastern Conference
The biggest addition to the Eastern Conference is the expansion Quebec City which for the purposes of this, I’ll be calling the Quebec Nordiques.
South Atlantic Pairing
Southeast Division: Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators
Atlantic Division: Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils
North American Northeast Pairing
Canadian East Division: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Nordiques
American East Division: Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Brooklyn Islanders, Boston Bruins
How are the Pairing (x2) and Distant Pairing (x1) decided?
North East Pair
Opposing Pair: West Coast Pair
Far Pair: North American Midwest Pair
Opposing Pair: North American Midwest Pair
Far Pair: West Coast Pair
North American Midwest Pair
Opposing Pair: South/Atlantic Pair
Far Pair: North East Pair
West Coast Pair
Opposing Pair: North East Pair
Far Pair: South/Atlantic Pair
Now some of these don’t make sense geographically but they ensure certain things like Canadian games played. That’s a good thing. I’m not entirely opposed to these pairings switching every season but I’ll get more into that.
So how do playoffs work? The original concept with the four conferences were for the top four teams to get in. You can go a few ways. It doesn’t take much to notice that this resembles the NFL Conferences only keeping to geography. So you could have the top two teams of each division move onto the playoffs. I would personally rather see only the Division Leaders moving onto the playoffs as 1,2,3 and 4 while the final four spots are decided by the best record, similar to an MLB Wild Card.
So is it perfect? Well no. Can we identify some early problems? Sure!
Boston is no longer in the same division as Montreal: While we’re not separating two teams from playing each other ever again, Montreal and Boston will be playing each other less, which some could see as bad. With the addition of Quebec, however, Montreal has a new team to distract themselves in division. And in case you noticed, we now have three divisions sporting two Original Six teams, so there isn’t any feeling of imbalance. New York and Boston would be early powerhouses in the American East, which would be ripe for creating an Original Six rivalry that doesn’t have much history. Now, one option to play around with is Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa and Boston competing in a division while the Maple Leafs join the Sabres, Rangers and Islanders. Don’t think Leaf fans would look to that too fondly, even if it makes more proximity sense.
New York and Brooklyn separated from the Atlantic: This could be hard to swallow from lovers of New York vs. New Jersey or seeing the Rangers play the Flyers and Penguins with regularity. However, the Atlantic gains Washington back, which is actually closer for the Flyers than New York/Brooklyn.
Columbus seems odd in the Midwest Division: This one was pretty annoying for me. I have had an internal struggle when it comes to Columbus and Nashville. Nashville makes sense in the Southeast Division as it allows for Carolina, Florida and Tampa less travel time. However, Nashville has already made some of their roots in the Central and they are closer to St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas than Columbus. However, someone needs to lose out. You can make up your mind on whether you want Columbus in the Midwest or Nashville but in the end you run into the same issue. I felt the Southeast Division shouldn’t suffer as much.
Detroit and Columbus still playing teams far out in the West: This will probably be a problem for a very long time in the NHL. Putting Detroit or Columbus in the East just doesn’t really work. However, you need a little perspective. In Major League Baseball, Detroit and Cleveland play int he Central. In Basketball? Same deal. Only the NFL puts Detroit and Cleveland in AFC/NFC North. To be fair, these leagues all have their own troubles such as the Seattle Mariners playing in the same division as the Texas Rangers or the Kansas City Chiefs in the same division as the Oakland Raiders. I did consider flipping Columbus with Chicago but I like how the Northmid Division is pretty much three teams hugging the Great Lakes with Winnipeg near a lake of its own. You can almost call it the Lakers Division.
Northwest/Northmid and Pacific/Midwest: One might look at these pairings as making a little more sense. It allows the Western Canadian teams to stay in the same pairing, keeps the Vancouver/Minnesota rivalry together, ensures less travel for the Avalanche and Stars when playing their pairing and who wouldn’t want to see Vancouver vs. Detroit more often? However, there are two big problems with that: Vancouver vs. Detroit and California vs. Columbus (or Nashville) would be travel nightmares. With Northwest/Pacific you’re only dealing with Anaheim/Edmonton and Winnipeg/Dallas, which stays in the timezone and is about the same wear and tear the teams are used to already. Detroit is in an odd position already ignoring all of these teams in the Atlantic, no sense making it worse for them to have to travel to Vancouver twice in a season (or once in a home and home and deal with further jetlag).
Reliance on Quebec/Seattle: Some disagree on me that these will be the next expansion spots. That’s fine. I just feel this is the best course of action. If Quebec doesn’t get an expansion team, you would simply slide Boston into the Canadian East (no longer “radically” Canadian), New Jersey into the American East, Columbus into the Atlantic and this creates a hole for a city like Milwaukee or Kansas City to fill. No team in Seattle? Portland and Las Vegas are the next best bets and those keep things pretty tidy to how the divisions are broken down already. Imagine the great rivalries Seattle vs. Vancouver will create, or the return of the battle of Quebec.
Would Pairings Ever Change?: In the NFL, they rotate the inter-conference games. I’m not the biggest fan of doing this because it would ensure some teams would lose money some years and save money other years on travel. The NFL breaks their conference in North/South/East/West for both conferences, similar to the two leagues in the MLB. The NHL and NBA break their conferences by geography and that’s why this doesn’t make as much sense. However, it wouldn’t be a deal breaker to me.
And for those who just absolutely love maps, here’s the map with fun colours:
Comments? Suggestions? Go ahead and comment below, and follow the author @lonerogue
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