How many times has this happened to you; you’re at your house watching the hockey game and a friend (and non-hockey fan) comes over and asks, “What quarter is it?” Hockey is dominated by threes. Three periods, three zones, three forwards on a line, three goals for a hat trick. There are 30 teams in the NHL, so why not three 10 team divisions?
With the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, the talk of realignment has heated up again. Teams like Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville all have cases they should be moved to the Eastern Conference to alleviate their travel heavy schedules. Traveling from the Eastern Time Zone all the way to Vancouver or L.A. is tiring for a team, especially when there are 82 games a season. Winnipeg will certainly feel that burden when they have to travel to the Southeast next season for their many Division match ups.
Any variation the league comes up with will leave some team with a tougher travel schedule than others. However, if the league were to break the teams into 3 Divisions each with 10 teams, it might minimize the road weariness for all 30 clubs.
So imagine this if you will:
Division “A”- Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks
Division “B” – Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Whatevers
Division “C” – Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs
The league can distribute how many divisional game however they want, be it 4 games or 6, it’s relatively moot. As it is, the distribution of games against non-Conference opponents is uneven, so that’s not really a problem.
This formation accomplishes a few things. First, it helps travel by keeping the majority of clubs in a division with clubs geographically close to them. So, the furthest the Kings have to travel for a division match up is Dallas and the furthest Detroit would have to travel is Florida. It’s still a stretch, but as far as time-zones it’s not so bad.
Second, it manages to preserve a lot of the rivalries in the NHL. Division “C” is basically the Atlantic and Northeast Division combined and that cluster houses some of the most intense rivalries. Boston and Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Ottawa and Buffalo will all get to see each other with frequency.
Third, it would eliminate the pesky, “automatic top-3 seed for division winners” rule. This rule is bothersome to a lot of fans who feel their team plays in a tougher division and even with a better record is relegated to a 4th seed or lower because they didn’t win their division. Basically, the divisions in this realignment are simply to create the playing schedules and don’t affect seeding.
In this instance, seeding is based solely on points and teams would be ranked 1-30 amongst the whole league. The playoffs would be a 16 seed tournament, with the top seed facing the 16th seed and so on.
There are also drawbacks to this design. One could argue it’s unfair for teams to be ranked with the entire league when the distribution of games is uneven. Traditionalists will balk at the lack of smaller divisions and an Eastern and Western Conference. Well, traditionalists will balk at most everything, but maybe a team returning to Winnipeg will quell that storm.
In reality, I’m sure the league will simply move one of Detroit, Nashville, or Columbus to the East and Winnipeg will join the West. It’s the simplest solution and it won’t ruffle any feathers. However, be ready for the realignment conversation to continue even after that because if Phoenix ends up somewhere else, more changes will need to be made.
Why not mix things up a little bit?
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney