In the offseason, my thoughts turn to alignment, and the NHL has a funky one right now. I understand the need for said funk, the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets were desperate to get into the Eastern Conference for travel and time zone reasons. But the unbalanced conferences were and still are a problem, although the new Vegas Golden Knights will help somewhat. The league still needs a 32nd team... and it does not look like ANY city will be stepping it up with the half-billion dollar expansion fee NOT named Quebec City.
The NHL will expand again at some point. I can see the league giving Seattle another couple years to solve its arena mess, but after it's all said and done, they will not leave $500 million on the table and let their only expansion suitor buy a struggling team and relocate it for less money. I think Seattle gets another year to at least get an arena plan in place and shovels in the ground before the NHL caves and grants Quebec an expansion team. But many have said it won't be Quebec, it will have to be a city that fits in the West (Houston could become another possibility once Les Alexander sells the NBA Rockets) because Detroit and Columbus won't move back. Really? Why would they have to? I have come up with two realignment plans that will work for pretty much everyone. It takes rivalries and travel into account, although it's a bit unorthodox.
Ready? FOUR conferences. Who said sports leagues have to be limited to two conferences? With both these alignments the NHL will get to keep its policy of every team plays in every arena (Going to see if I can make that trip to Vegas EVERY year), while at the same time cultivate natural rivalries and save some teams (Florida,Tampa Bay, Vancouver especially) some travel miles. So, without further delay…
Realignment A: Canadian style!
Atlantic Division: Boston, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey
Southeast Division: Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington
Boston fits geographically, but it does seem somewhat odd to forego their traditional rivals Montreal, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, but necessary when you see the rest of the alignment. The Panthers and Lightning regain divisional rivals Carolina and Washington, saving some travel.
Northeast Division: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus
Midwest Division: Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, Minnesota
You could swap Philadelphia and Boston for a more traditional Northeast Division, but at this point it seems better to keep the Pennsylvania teams together. The Midwest fits perfectly, almost like a clone of the NFC North in the NFL (Milwaukee is the AHL affiliate of Nashville, so it counts!).
Southwest Division: St. Louis, Dallas, Colorado, Arizona
Pacific Division: Vegas, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim
Not much to say here. Seems a stretch travel wise for St. Louis and Dallas to make two West coast trips and vice-versa, but with the current alignment, they're pretty much doing that now anyway.
East Division: Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto
West Division: Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver
Think about it... what's the one thing Canadian fans hate about the NHL lately? Too few Canadian teams late in the playoffs. Sure, the Ottawa Senators gave it a run in the East last year, but with a playoff format that basically handed it to them. This alignment will guarantee a Canadian team is in the Stanley Cup semifinals every year. The trade off, only one team. Travel would be an issue as teams in opposite divisions would play twice on the road, but it could be mitigated since every team plays in every building anyway, just make the road trips, as well as the homestands, a little longer..
But if that alignment doesn't work, here's an alternate:
Realignment B: Geographically correct-style
Atlantic Division: New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia
Northeast Division: Quebec, Montreal, Boston, Pittsburgh
Old-school alignment at work here
Great Lakes Division: Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit
Midwest Division: Chicago, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado
Buffalo and Denver in the same conference? Yeah, but the NHL is spread out in such a way that no alignment will ever be perfect, and since everyone goes everywhere, one extra game won't hurt too much.
Southeast Division: Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington
Central Division: Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas
I know Columbus doesn't sound very “southern”, but when compared to other NHL cities it's in the middle North-South wise. Also, they can renew some old rivalries with St. Louis and Nashville, which have to be preferable to the New York-area teams they currently share a division with. The two Florida teams in a division with Carolina and Washington just makes sense, separating them is easily the thing I hate most about the current alignment.
Northwest Division: Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, San Jose
Pacific Division: Arizona, Vegas, Los Angeles, Anaheim
Seems goofy to break up the California teams, but would Vegas or Arizona really fit in the Northwest? Hmm... well, if the Coyotes can’t get a new arena in Phoenix and Seattle builds one, swap the Arizona/Seattle and the Sharks and done!
The regular season schedule matrix
With four conferences, the schedule breakdown becomes laughably easy. Factoring in mandatory home-and-away against each team, the schedule will be pretty balanced as well, as everyone will play an identical schedule over 62 of the 82 games, the other 20 in conference/division. This should keep the winners of weak divisions in the playoffs to a minimum. Here's the breakdown:
6 games (3 home, 3 away) against 3 divisional opponents = 18 games
4 games (2 home, 2 away) against 4 non-division conference opponents = 16 games
2 games (1 home, 1 away) against 24 non-conference opponents = 48 games
Stanley Cup Playoffs
Playoff seeding: The first two rounds will be played in-conference. The division winner with the best record will be the #1 seed. The other division winner will be the #2 seed and hold home-ice in the 1st round. (Winning a division should mean something. even if the wild-card team they play has a better record, I always thought division winners should hold home ice, field, court, etc.). The next two best teams will be awarded the #3 and #4 seeds, respectively. So, a division could send three teams to the playoffs or just its champion depending on records. Using last year as an example, in the Southern Conference Washington would have been seeded #1, and St. Louis #2 as division winners. The Blue Jackets #3 and the Predators #4. The Central would have gotten three teams in, while the Southeast would gotten in only the Caps.
Stanley Cup Semifinals: Once the four conference champions are crowned. The teams are reseeded based on regular season record. #1 vs #4, and #2 vs #3. Pretty straightforward. Higher seed of the winners holds home-ice in the Stanley Cup Final.
Which hypothetical realignment is better?
This poll is closed
Re-alignment A: Canadian style!
Re-alignment B: Geographically correct-style