Things I Think: Realignment

1) With how quick the Winnipeg Jets’ returned to the NHL this past season, the schedule makers weren’t able to switch around the alignments to put Winnipeg in it’s rightful place: the Western Conference. Since then, the NHL and its Board of Governors have been trying to figure out a way to fix this problem. There are easy fixes, such as taking one of the teams in the Central Division and placing them in the the Southeast Division. There are also talks of a full re-alignment, in which the NHL could get rid of the two-conference system entirely. I would explain the entire thing in writing, but that’s too difficult, so I’ll post the pictures of what the NHL might like to do.

So what would the NHL do for realignment, specifically? There have been two forms of realignment proposed to the NHL Board of Governors. The first one keeps teams in conference form with new divisions:

In this form, the NHL gets rid of three divisions in favor of a two division system in each conference. In each conference, one division would have seven teams, while the other division would have eight teams. Each team would play teams in all other divisions twice, home and home. The rest of the games would be divided up equally intra-division. This alignment would also bring the idea of divisional playoffs back, in which the match-ups in the first round of the playoffs would be intra-division.

There are a few problems with this alignment. First, nobody’s sure if Columbus or Detroit would move over to the Eastern Conference, although Mike Ilitch, owner of the Red Wings, says that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman promised him that the Red Wings would finally move over to the Eastern Conference. This obviously benefits the Red Wings, who have to travel to all the team in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference twice a season per each team. Of course, the Blue Jackets have this same problem. At the same time, does anyone in Columbus care?

Another problem is that this alignment screws with the NHL’s established rivalries, most notably the Pennsylvania one. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers would not end up in the same division. If this is the case, the Penguins and the Flyers would only play twice a season unless they met later in the playoffs.

This past Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada, another realignment is introduced that completely changes the way we think of the NHL’s current alignment:

This alignment completely changes what the NHL has been used to for the last 14 seasons. In this form, the NHL completely gets rid of the two conference system in favor of a four-division system that isn’t bound by conferences. The schedule makeup would be exactly the same as the one described in the previous alignment. However, the one thing that does change is the way the playoffs work.

In this alignment, the NHL would adopt a playoff system in which the first two rounds would be battled out between the top four teams in each division. After the first two rounds, the teams are reseeded from one to four. This means that we could see a Buffalo-Vancouver semi-final matchup before the Stanley Cup Finals.

This alignment keeps all the NHL’s current rivalries intact, and even adds to an evolving one, adding Washington into a division with Pittsburgh. Geographically, it levels the playing field for all the teams in the NHL. Teams in the west wouldn’t have to travel as much as they do now, only visiting teams in other divisions once a season. It increases the travel of the current Eastern Conference, but like I said, this is more or less leveling the playing field with the teams in the West that rack up tons of frequent flyer miles by the time the season is over.

The NHLPA isn’t all that interested in this plan, though. In both of these alignments, there are eight teams in two divisions, and seven teams in the two others. The NHLPA claims that this alignment is unfair for the teams in eight-team divisions, which is a valid point. There’s always that idea of contraction, or maybe even expansion, but neither of those things are realistic for the NHL, who will never want to contract teams, nor does it have the ability to magically expand at the moment. Quebec and Las Vegas are thoroughly disappointed.

The second division alignment is the more intriguing option, here. It doesn’t screw too much up with the current system. However, it changes enough to make some sort of a difference, but that keeps it interesting. For all we know, though, the NHL will simply do what most people expect them to do and just switch two teams. Here’s to hoping for more change.

2) I know. That first one was a long one, so I’ll keep the next four short.

The Sabres are a mess. Other than Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, nothing seems to be meshing with this team. Ville Leino has been an atrocity offensively, but his defensive game deserves applause. There’s renewed hope with him currently on a line with rookies Luke Adam and Zack Kassian, though. Kassian, by the way, has been impressive in his five games.

3) Three coaching changes this week. Paul Maurice was axed in Carolina in favor of Kirk Muller. Bruce Boudreau received a call at 6:15 AM to be told that his services were no longer required in Washington, as former Caps captain Dale Hunter takes the helm.

The Boudreau firing becomes even more interesting after the Anaheim-Montreal game on Wednesday night, as he was hired by the Ducks to replace one-time Stanley Cup winning coach Randy Carlisle. If only I could find a job that would fire me in order to be hired by a better company the next day…

4) Claude Giroux is the first Flyer to lead the NHL’s scoring race after 25 games since Eric Lindros did it in the 1998-99 season. In case you needed a random fact to tell your friend at lunch, today.

5) Finally, if Jordin Tootoo isn’t suspended for jumping into Ryan Miller on Saturday night, I’ll be convinced that the Shanabanner isn’t any better than Colin Campbell was. That is all.


One response to “Things I Think: Realignment

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