A great deal has been made this week about realignment, and the new league proposal which if approved, would radically alter the way the teams are structured. I’m sure in time it would make sense, and I realize there are significant issues in play, and frustrated owners in the commissioner’s ear, but this new plan seems flawed, and I set out to find a better way.
The concerns I have with the new proposal are simple. It feels like they are trying to put a square peg into a round hole. In an effort to properly align time zones and satisfy clubs, you create an imbalance with 16 teams in the East, and 14 teams in the West. It is an imbalance which creates scheduling challenges, and a lack of fairness with respect to the likelihood of qualifying for the playoffs.
So how to build the better mouse trap? The final answer for me ultimately became expansion. Speculation has been rampant, and I never liked the idea, but if you are going to do it, do it now. A franchise in Quebec City, and a second team in the Greater Toronto are has its perks. It caters to a pair of hockey markets who currently feel underserved. It would certainly generate between half a billion and a billion dollars in expansion fees. And it would create about 50 new jobs for the players association.
Now we decide how to split up 32 teams, and make it functional. I adopted the NFL model. 2 conferences with 4 divisions in each. In my opinion, the geographic break down of the divisions are ideal. While it does not address the desire to move Detroit and Columbus to the East, I will explain later why I don’t feel that is the problem.
Scheduling 82 games is also easy under this model. The league has expressed a desire under their new system for every team to visit every building every year. That would equate to 32 non-conference games per season. Teams would also continue to face division rivals 6 times per season, for a total of 18 games. That leaves 32 games to play within your conference. I would use an NFL type model for conference games as well. A home and home with each team in your conference, with an additional home and home against one division in your conference. So every third year, you would play a conference rival 4 times instead of 2. Division alignment would look as follows:
Division 1 Division 2 Division 3 Division 4
Montreal Canadiens Toronto MapleLeafs NY Rangers Washington Capitals
Ottawa Senators Toronto Expansion NY Islanders Carolina Hurricanes
Quebec City Expansion Buffalo Sabres NewJersey Devils Florida Panthers
Boston Bruins Pittsburgh Penguins Philadelphia Flyers TampaBay Lightning
Division 1 Division 2 Division 3 Division 4
Detroit RedWings Nashville Predators Vancouver Canucks San Jose Sharks
Columbus BlueJackets St.Louis Blues Edmonton Oilers LosAngeles Kings
Chicago Blackhawks Dallas Stars Calgary Flames Anaheim Ducks
Minnesota Wild Colorado Avalanche Winnipeg Jets Phoenix Coyotes
The playoff format would have no need to change. The 4 division winners would automatically acquire the top 4 seeds, and 4 wild card seeds would still be available. I like the ratio in a 16 team conference, 8 make it, 8 do not. But with the addition of 2 more clubs to the league, if there was enough of an appetite for an 8 versus 9 play in game, it could be tolerated.
Now the issue of the RedWings and BlueJackets, and their desire to move East. I just don’t see why this is an issue. Under this format, each team would play 50 games against either their division or the Eastern Conference. Of the remaining 32 games, 16 would be at home, and between 3 and 6 road games would be played in the Central time zones. These clubs would only actually head west for between 10 and 13 games per season which is very manageable. There would be one pacific north west trip from Winnipeg thru Vancouver. And one trip from California thru the desert, and possibly one more. That would still leave the possibility of western travel in the playoffs, but such is life in every league.
I am actually not sure why so much effort is being made to appease these 2 clubs in the first place. There are many teams in the Western Conference who have far greater travel issues, and an increased non conference schedule will only increase the miles travelled
There are a myriad of reasons why this isn’t ready to happen. First of all, the league has not even committed to expansion yet. Secondly, you would still have to finance new arenas in those markets if teams are awarded. I just believe this system would be far more balanced, maintains rivalries, makes geographic sense, and addresses the issue of time zone compatibility. I don’t anticipate anyone will listen, but this is a realignment model I would look forward to.