Monday, February 25, 2013

2013-14 NHL Realignment

With the subject of NHL realignment coming up again, it's time to revisit what has proven to be a popular post we made earlier regarding our thoughts on NHL realignment necessitated by the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers from the southeastern United States to central Canada where they became the Winnipeg Jets.

First, let's take a look at where things stand right now.

NHL 2011-12 NHL Division Map, NHL 2011-12 NHL Division Map
Current 2012-13 NHL Division Map

The things to note are the compactness of the Northeast and Atlantic Divisions, especially compared with the Northwest and Pacific Divisions in the Western Conference. Also of note are the distances from both Minnesota and Dallas, both located in the Central Time Zone, from all the other teams in their divisions, none of which are even located in the same time zone.

Obviously, with all the issued related to hammering out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Winnipeg Jets were forced to remain in the Southeast Division this season, a situation that all agree needs to be rectified.

Absurdly, with teams only playing within their conferences during this shortened season, Minnesota and Winnipeg will not be playing each other, despite being only 385 miles apart, while the Wild will be making six trips out to the Pacific coast to face Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim, all 1,400 to 1,500 miles away, including one time they follow a game in Vancouver with one in Detroit and another where a game against the Kings sees them playing their next game in Columbus, Ohio!

As far as the new attempt at realignment after the previous proposal was tabled as a part of the labor negotiations, one often repeated is the fact Detroit wants to move east and has apparently been promised by the NHL that they will be moved when the first opportunity arrives, but Jeff Marek of Sportsnet in Canada mentioned last year that the late Chicago owner Bill Wirtz was also promised that Chicago would never be separated from Detroit, in direct conflict with any promises made to the Red Wings.

With that in mind, let's look at our proposal for 2013-14. To oversimplify, currently the continent west of the Mississippi River is essentially divided horizontally into a northern group (the Northwest Division) and a southern group (the Pacific Division). What we propose is to make the divisional alignments based on vertical divisions, rather than the current horizontal alignments. Additionally, we also would embrace the American Hockey League model, reducing the number of divisions to just four, which was some fairly radical thinking when we first proposed it in June of 2011.

Each conference would be made of one seven and one eight team division. Having fewer divisions of more teams would allow more clubs to be accommodated as far as their desires to be paired with traditional rivals and will pay off again when the playoffs are discussed.

The method we would use to place the teams in each of the four divisions begins in the northeast and places Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto together, adding in Buffalo. The Northeast Division is then completed with the three New York/New Jersey teams as well as traditional New York rival Boston, who stay grouped with their historic rival Montreal.

The remaining seven teams in the east are the two Pennsylvania clubs Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as Washington, who belong in a division with nearby Philadelphia. The four remaining southern teams, Carolina, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Florida round out the Atlantic Division.

In the west, we simply group the eight teams which are the furthest west. The California clubs, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim are grouped with nearby Phoenix and the three western-most Canadian teams, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Colorado is the final team to complete the West Division, as they inhabit the Mountain Time Zone along with Edmonton, Calgary and Phoenix.

The Central Division is based on grouping Winnipeg, Minnesota and Dallas together since they are located in a relative vertical line. Traditional rivals St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit are then added. Columbus is included due to it's proximity to Detroit.

Yes, we would keep Detroit in the west, refusing to separate long standing Original 6 rivals Detroit and Chicago, two cities who are in the same division in the three other professional sports leagues, the NBA, NFL and MLB.

NHL 2012-13 NHL Division Realignment Map Proposal, NHL 2012-13 NHL Division Realignment Map Proposal
Our 2012-13 NHL Realignment 4 Division Proposal

How clean and simple is that? While we would be open to some minor tweaks, such as letting Nashville and Columbus swap places, even though we'd prefer to keep Detroit and Columbus together, this is our preferred arrangement, thanks in part to our not having to comply with any promises made to the Red Wings to move east or the Flyers to remain in a division with the Rangers since we don't have to concern ourselves with any influence or power wielded by Mike Ilitch in Detroit or Ed Snyder in Philadelphia.

The proposal we've seen online the last few days shows Colorado in a conference with Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg, which would isolate Colorado in the Mountain time zone, while we would prefer to keep them with Phoenix, Edmonton and Calgary in the same time zone.

As for the proposed conferences in the east, the one we've seen has Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington on one conference, which seems fine by itself, but then that leaves an awful looking mess with Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Toronto, Buffalo and Boston in the northeast grouped with the two Florida clubs, the Panthers and Lightning, which is just plain awful. Any plan that does not have Tampa Bay and Florida with Nashville and Carolina just seems completely wrong to us.

Our proposal, shown in the map above, groups the teams in a much more logical geographic manner, including keeping some very great rivals grouped together as well as balancing the east and west with 15 teams each.

Furthermore, with our plan, the playoffs would return to the system once used by the NHL, where the first two rounds of the playoffs would be played exclusively within your own division among the top four clubs in each division. The benefit of this system would be the increased number of times clubs would face the same teams during the playoffs as the years would go by, and if there's one thing we will scream from the top of our lungs, it's that rivalries are created during the playoffs. Playing the same teams over and over during the regular season makes for repetitious boredom, while playing to end your opponent's season creates an intensity and drama you just can't get anywhere else.

Two rounds of playoffs among the same seven teams in your division gives you a 1-in-3 chance of facing the same team as the previous year, when compared to a 1-in-7 chance of repeating an opponent from the previous season as it stands now within a 15 team conference. In reality, the odds of facing the same team as a previous season actually improves in the short term when you factor in successful teams making the playoffs more often while they are in periods of greater success.

The NHL would likely then have the division winners in each conference face each other to determine a conference champion, but we'd like to see the final four teams seeded by points regardless of conference. This would have several benefits, the first being that if two strong teams advanced from one conference and the lowest two from the other, as happened in 2002-03, this system would increase the chances of the most competitive Stanley Cup Finals possible as well as allowing for the possibility of an occasional Philadelphia vs. New York or Boston vs. Pittsburgh final not possible now with the East vs. West format. The TV networks should also appreciate the chance for two huge eastern population centers facing off for the Stanley Cup now and then.

The good news is that the NHL apparently has seen things our way, as the previously approved proposal prior to the CBA negotiations did away with the idea of "divisions" and treated the four groups as separate conferences, allowing for annual mixing and matching of the final four clubs without regard to the geography of east vs. west. This also shrewdly allows for some flexibility on their part should a team such as Phoenix suddenly relocate across the continent to Quebec City, which would normally throw off the East/West balance, which would no longer apply.

After implementing this alignment, we'd also adjust the schedule to include playing every team in the league at home every year in the manner of the NBA schedule.

The breakdown would be;

If you are in the seven team division;
  • You play the 15 teams in the other conference twice a year = 30 games
  • You play the 8 teams in the other division of your conference twice a year = 16 games
  • You play the other 6 teams in your division 6 times a year = 36 games
If you play in the eight team division;
  • You play the 15 teams in the other conference twice a year = 30 games
  • You play the 7 teams in the other division of your conference twice a year = 14 games
  • You play the other 7 teams in your division 5 times a year = 35 games
  • You play the remaining 3 games in your division among the other 7 teams on a rotating annual basis = 3 games
Again, the idea that each team would play every other team home and away seems to be a part of every proposal we have heard, something we are very thankful for.

Realignment is a topic for which there are naturally many, many solutions to and opinions on, so feel free to add yours in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. I like the plan very much. Dallas and Winnipeg are BEGGING for a realignment. I agree that everything you've proposed is pretty concrete aside from the Nashville/Columbus caveat. Since Nashville is in the Central Time Zone and Columbus is in the Eastern Time Zone, I'd be more inclined to kick CBJ over to the East.

    The only issue I had with y'all's plan is the schedule. 6 teams 6 times and the other 23 twice is a big discrepancy. I do like the home and away with all other-conference teams, but I'd like to see more of the in-conference play be across divisions. Not sure how to fix that though.

    Thanks for the entertaining article!


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