Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Realigning the NHL

     With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, the NHL is in geographical disarray. The Winnipeg Jets still play in the Southeast division in the Eastern Conference despite being in a different timezone. So on December 7, 2011, the NHL's Board of Governors approved of a realignment proposal in which there would be four conferences geographically based. teams would play six times- three home, three away- for a total of 36 inter-division games. The top four teams from each conference would qualify for the playoffs. The four survivors of the conference rounds would meet up for the third round and so on and so forth. The NHLPA delayed the plan a month later, citing the playoff format as being of concern. Here's the NHL's proposal regarding the four conferences: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=604852
      I'm going to throw my two cents in here and offer my proposals for realignment. First let's look at the teams that are rumored or could be on the move (No, that does not include any California NHL teams. Los Angeles and San Jose have passionate fanbases, mind you.):

  • Phoenix Coyotes (You know the story)
  • Nashville Predators (Del Baggio scandal, anyone?)
  • New York Islanders (Arena lease expires in 2015)
  • Florida Panthers (History of futility, 21st in attendance last year)
  • New Jersey Devils (Close to bankruptcy, ownership problems)
  • Columbus Blue Jackets (Futility, financial problems)
      Now that we've gotten that list out of the way, let's check out some potential relocation cities in order of the most likely destinations to the least. Keep in mind that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't want to relocate any NHL team to these cities. Instead, he hopes to make more revenue by putting expansion teams in these cities:

  • Quebec City
  • Seattle
  • Kansas City
  • Cleveland
  • Brooklyn
  • Houston 
  • Hartford
  • Las Vegas
  • Hamilton
     The reason why I have Hamilton at the bottom of my list is because the only way that Southern Ontario gets an NHL team is if Jim Balsillie buys a team. The NHL has blocked him from doing so on numerous occasions (i.e. the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators), so it's highly unlikely that Hamilton will be housing a relocated team soon. Yes, Hamilton has seen steady population growth recently and is also in terrific economic shape, but what the NHL's trying to say to Balsillie is "no" means "no". Plus, there would a major gripe from Toronto and Buffalo due to territorial competition. I mean, why do you think David Stern blocked the city of Anaheim from getting the Sacramento Kings? Also, notice how there's not a "2nd Toronto team" on my list. The same thing goes for Toronto as it does for Hamilton, although Toronto's a much bigger city than Hamilton. Now reverting back to the four-conference proposal, the conferences would be unbalanced. Two conferences would consist of eight teams and the other two would have seven. So my first proposition would be to make like the NFL and have a 32-team league and add two expansion teams. The 32 teams would be split into two conferences: Eastern and Western. They would be further divided into eight 4-team divisions that would look like this (Based on every team's current location):

Eastern Conference

Division A:
  1. Montreal
  2. Toronto
  3. Quebec City
  4. Ottawa
Division B:  
  1. Carolina
  2. Florida
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Nashville
Division C:
  1. New Jersey
  2. New York Islanders
  3. New York Rangers
  4. Boston
Division D:
  1. Washington
  2. Buffalo
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Philadelphia
Western Conference
Division E:
  1. Vancouver
  2. Calgary
  3. Edmonton
  4. Winnipeg
Division F:
  1. Los Angeles
  2. Seattle
  3. Anaheim
  4. San Jose
Division G:
  1. Detroit
  2. Chicago
  3. Columbus
  4. Minnesota
Division H:
  1. Phoenix
  2. Dallas 
  3. Colorado
  4. St. Louis 
     Sorry Red Wings fans, but I still have Detroit in the Western Conference. Neither Chicago nor Colorado are coming to the Eastern Conference with you, so you'll just have to deal with the ol' 10:00 PM game in Vancouver or Anaheim under this proposal. Other than that, this proposal works fine in terms of travel. Dallas is no longer the timezone lonewolf of the division and travel should be cut down for the Stars. Canadian teams get their own divisions and St. Louis now plays in a easier division as does Nashville. This proposal is flawed, though. 32 teams might be too much for the NHL to financially handle. While the idea of a division exclusive for Sun Belt teams is cute, a majority of the Southern region aside from Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina could care less for hockey. Another issue is the lack of division rivals. Yes Philly would still be in the same division as Pittsburgh along with Chicago/Detroit, the Canadian teams, the California teams and the New York teams (Don't forget Boston and the New York Rangers). But Buffalo and Toronto won't see each other as often and there wouldn't be as much of a rivalry between Seattle and Vancouver. Same goes for Winnipeg/Minnesota and Toronto/Boston or Montreal/Boston. One point you could make, however, is the fact that some of the best NHL rivalries happen outside of division lines (Remember the good ol' Wings/Avs rivalry of the late 90s and early 00s?). 
     My second proposal consists of moving the Nashville Predators to the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference. It would basically be a four-team swap amongst divisions. Nashville would take the place of Winnipeg, who would move to the Northwest Division. Winnipeg would take Vancouver's spot as the Canucks would head to the Pacific Division. The Dallas Stars would be swapped out as they would move to the Central Division. This proposal actually sounds reasonable in terms of traveling and competition. Nashville no longer has to worry about Chicago, St. Louis or Detroit. Their only concern would be Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals and that's not saying much. But Vancouver doesn't gain any good rivalries from the swap as they leave Edmonton and Calgary's division. There's also the uncertainly behind the Phoenix Coyote's ownership. Will Greg Jamison be the one to purchase the Wile E. Coyotes? If Jamison does, will he move the team? When will the sale happen? There's too many unanswered questions being asked at this point.
     ...Or you could just have the Winnipeg Jets and the Detroit Red Wings swap divisions. There, Wings fans. In this proposal, you get to have your cake and eat it. Now those poor Chicago Blackhawks fans won't have a good division rival. But hey, you'll get to boo Sidney Crosby more often, right? I mean, who doesn't love to boo "Cindy Lou Who" Crosby?


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