NHL Realignment: Planning for now and later

Possibly the biggest burning issue in the NHL, other than concussions, taking advantage of the NBA lockout, avoiding a lockout of their own next year, players getting attention for their Halloween costumes and whether Sidney Crosby will ever play again, is realignment.

The abduction of the Atlanta Thrashers to balmy Winnipeg threw a wrench in the league’s alignment. With the Thrashers franchise, or Jets as they are referred to now, still in the Southeast Division, something needs to change.

And it will.

The NHL’s Board of Governors will meet this winter and figure it all out. The funny part is, it’s already figured out. There’s a great way to do this, and I’ve got it all figured out.

Some teams will be really happy about this proposal, such as:

  • Columbus. The franchise is getting close to the ICU due to horrible play on the ice. No one wants to pay to see a loser, and that’s all the Blue Jackets have been for over a decade. They play too many games out west and not enough in primetime to gain a television audience or attention. Getting them east will improve the franchise’s future.
  • Dallas. Finally, a majority of games inside their own time zone, as they move to a group closer to the mid-west.

Teams that will probably be pissed at this include:

  • Detroit. They claim they were promised dibs on moving back East the first chance they got. Well, they’re gonna have to suck it up, because there’s already too many teams further east than they are. Thinking they would get to move East and Columbus wouldn’t is delusional. They complain about too many games against western teams at late hours, in this scenario, the number of those games is extremely limited. The concept they’d leave Chicago as the only Original Six team in the West is selfish on their part.
  • Nashville. They’d like to go east to try to get more early games and limit travel. They’ll be fine where they are.
  • Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. You boys are going to have to split up.
  • Winnipeg. Stranded from the rest of the western Canadian teams. They may complain about that, but they don’t have to worry about selling tickets because they’re a true hockey market, right?

So without further adieu, here is how you split up the teams, and how it’ll all work:

Eastern Western
Northeast
———————
Boston
Buffalo
Columbus
Montreal
Ottawa
Pittsburgh
Toronto
(see #1)
Atlantic
———————
Carolina
Florida
New Jersey
NY Islanders
NY Rangers
Philadelphia
Tampa Bay
Washington
Central
———————
Chicago
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
Nashville
St. Louis
Winnipeg
(see #2)
Pacific
———————
Anaheim
Calgary
Colorado
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Phoenix
San Jose
Vancouver

How do you get the divisions even?

Expansion, baby.

  1. Quebec City or Hartford. Or another team in Toronto if that ever happens. Pretty simple, and I think a lot of people would be okay with any of those options. Quebec seems to be the closest to being a reality.
  2. My personal choice is Atlanta. They should still have their team. The few fans in Georgia who were loyal despite having nothing to cheer for would fully embrace another team, and with the right ownership and management, it could be successful. It’s important to be in that area and grow the game in the region. The only reason the Thrashers are the Jets are because Atlanta Spirit Group wanted the team out of their building, which they promptly sold, and that the NHL already had another headache on their hands on the desert.If that doesn’t work, there’s plenty of other ways to go here. Kansas City has their building, but no team. Houston could be an option on sheer size alone. Getting another team in the mid-west shouldn’t be a problem. If you gotta put a team further west, like Las Vegas or Seattle, switch Colorado to the Central division and put the new team in the Pacific division.

The expansion doesn’t have to be immediate, I’m sure it can be used as a negotiating tool in the upcoming CBA talks. But you’d want everyone in by 2015 or 2016.

But 32 teams is the way to go.

How do you sell expansion to people who claim that the product is already watered down?

Well, first, you realize that those people are idiots. Talent has never been more abundant, and the skill level has never been higher. The league’s expansion into the southern United States is beginning to bear fruit. The kids who were the first in their cities to grow up with a hockey team, grew up playing and loving the game, are becoming talented players. Bringing the product to new cities will just increase that down the road. Talent level isn’t the problem.

How do you sell expansion to the league’s owners?

That’s simple. You show them the check you’re getting for expansion fees, and they’ll be ok with it. In most of these situations, where the teams in the division with an expansion franchise get a another nearby franchise to play against, limiting travel costs.

How do you sell expansion to the players?

Another 46 roster spots available, and a couple more arenas in money-making markets that can increase revenues.

How do you fix the schedule?

Simple. Seven teams in the division, you play them each four times, three home and three away, totaling 42 games, all fairly close to home. Eight teams in the other division in your conference, you play them each once at home, once on the road, adding 16 games to the slate. The other conference, you play one division both home and away, and the other division is split half just home, half just away, meaning 12 home games and 12 road games against the other conference. (There would be a rotation year to year, meaning you’d get home-and-away with one division one year, and then the other division the next year, and so on)

That leaves you with 82 games. Most within your division, to develop the rivalries, and each NHL franchise will host 28 of the 32 teams each year.

What do you do when another team moves, like possibly-probably Phoenix?

There’s enough geographical fits for everything to make any scenario a quick fix. Columbus can get shipped to the Central if a Northeast spot is needed. Philadelphia can go to the Northeast and rejoin Pittsburgh if a team goes in the Atlantic area. Detroit can go to the Northeast if a spot needs to be cleared in the Central. Colorado can go to the Central if you need room in the Pacific, or if you need a team in the Pacific you can always grab Winnipeg. This scenario allows easy shuffling.

What about playoffs?

Top four teams in each division advance. 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3. Winners play each other. The teams that come out of the division play the other division champion in the conference. Winners play for the Cup. Real easy.

Why won’t this happen?

The only thing that could stop this from success is if the league decides against expansion.

I think it’s worth a shot.

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Posted on November 2, 2011, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The only reason I think teams/fans in the east don’t wanna see Detroit in the eastern conference is simply because of one reason,they’re gonna dominate it plain and simple.Can u imagine if they were in that conference when Atlanta came in how many more cups they would have won?The reason I said that is they’re further east than Atlanta is so they should have already been in the eastern conference.Don’t even bring up the Penguins.That’s a team until Crosby came to town was a joke.Their fans were not there when the team stunk and they almost moved to Kansas City anyway.

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