Nate Silver Optimizes the NHL

In his NY Times post, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver steps away from politics and baseball to take on the NHL. The post’s title, “Why Can’t Canada Win the Stanley Cup?” is a lead-in premise to his re-imagining of a more balanced league in terms of where and how intense fanbases seem to be.

It’s nice to see a mind far smarter and more analytical than my feeble patchwork of five or six braincells look at how to better the league.

I’ve taken his new 28-team optimized NHL and put my ol’ realignment spin on it. Same guidelines apply as my NHL Realignment Project:

1). Keep the conferences limited to one or two time zones (a.k.a limit East-West travel);

2.) Preserve rivalries as much as logistically possible.

Here’s the map (click it for full size):

NHL Realignment Nate Silver/Tom Fulery Mashup

Bonus Tidbits (mmmmmmmmmm Timbits):

  • I’ve used the four conference, no divisions format
  • The conferences bring back the old school names used for divisions from 1974-1993
  • The new Dallas Stars logo is used
  • Quebec Nordiques, Hamilton Tigers, Montreal Maroons are all throwback names to previous NHL teams located in each of those locales.
  • Seattle Metropolitans, while never an NHL team, was a PCHA team that played from 1915-1924, and was the first American team to win the Stanley Cup (wikipedia article)
  • Toronto Legacy is a name used by a movement for getting a team into Markham, Ontario (site).

Nice to post something about realignment again. I gotta say, I missed it.

As always, thanks for reading… and make sure to check out Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t

Check out the rest of the NHL Realignment Project too, in case you missed it.

– Tom

22 Responses to Nate Silver Optimizes the NHL

  1. Matt Fagan says:

    Well looks like the Coyotes are staying in Glendale for now, so had to rethink my own alignment for a 32-team league. The Coyotes staying put puts a MAJOR cramp in Seattle’s chances of getting a team. Writing is on the wall about who the NHL wants for expansion teams and Seattle just isn’t one. With what Canadian cities are willing to pay in expansion fees, the teams are practically reserved for Quebec City and Markham. Looks like American cities like Seattle, Kansas City, Houston, and Milwaukee will just have to be used as leverage for struggling current teams…Anyway, on with my idea for a 32 team league.

    4 conferences, 2 divisions each. Using geographical names just for reference. Conferences/divisions could be named anything the NHL decides, but the alignment itself will be based on geography to help with travel.

    SOUTHERN CONFERENCE:
    East Division: Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals.
    West Division: Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars

    Columbus is slightly out of place, but they get to keep division rivalries with STL and NSH. Everyone else would be right at home in a Southern Conference.

    NORTHERN CONFERENCE:
    Canadian Division: Montreal Canadiens, Quebec Nordiques, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs
    Midwest Division: Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Markham Marauders

    Feels a bit weird breaking up the three Ontario teams, but with 4-team divisions, had to do it.

    EASTERN CONFERENCE:
    Atlantic Division: New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins
    Northeast Division: Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings

    Detroit probably works better in the Northern conf., but there was no way to fit them in without breaking up the Canadian teams, and let’s face it, the NHL won’t go for that. Boston in the Atlantic is also breaking tradition, but there’s no way NBC is going to be happy with Philly-Pitt being in different divisions.

    WESTERN CONFERENCE:
    Southwest Division: Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks
    Northwest Division: Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks.

    As I mentioned before, the Coyotes staying pretty much puts Seattle’s prospects on ice until the next round of relocation talk. Well on to schedule and playoff format.

    PLAYOFFS: Playoffs are all in-conference. The (1) seed is awarded to the division champion with the best record. The other division champion is the (2) seed, regardless of record. The (3) and (4) seeds are awarded to the next two best teams in the conference regardless of division. Once the conference champions are decided, the conference champion with the best regular season record will then get to select their opponent for the Stanley Cup semifinals. Who would they choose? Maybe there is a team in the field with a lot of injuries, or a team that the top seed has good matchups with. But records will not decide who plays who, the top team does. The two teams not selected by the top seed will play each other with the team with the better regular season record having home ice advantage.

    SCHEDULING: The regular season will consist of 82 games, broken down as such:
    (6) games against 3 divisional opponents: (3) home and (3) away: 18 games
    (4) games against 4 conference, non-divisional opponents (2) home (2) away: 16 games
    (2) games against 24 non-conference opponents (1) home (1) away: 48 games 48+16+18=82

    With this format the NHL gets its NBA-style ‘every team visits every arena’ concept. I personally am not a fan of that. As a Panther fan, I could do without my team having to go to northwest Canada every year, and I’m sure Canuck, Oiler, and Flame fans aren’t thrilled about mandatory trips to Florida and Tampa Bay…I’d be ok with more conference games and rotating non-conference games so that every team goes to every other arena once every two years…(Florida hosts Vancouver 1 year, plays at Vancouver the next)… but it’s the way the league has decided to do it, so this format fits that concept.

    A bit off topic, but I also favor changing the point values of regular season games. Make them 3 points instead of 2, forget this extra point in OT/SO nonsense. 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an OT/SO win, 1 point for OT/SO loss, 0 for regulation loss. I’ll get off my soapbox now

    • LoveWaffle says:

      And that’s why the owners would never hire you with this type of realignment! I’m sure you would separate the Dallas Cowboys from the NFC East too, even if they should be playing in the NFC West instead.

      POLITICS. That’s what decides division realignments, not common sense. Never forget that!

      Don’t forget that Glendale is on the verge of bankruptcy and when that happens, you can kiss the Coyotes goodbye!

      • Matt Fagan says:

        Actually I wouldn’t take the Cowboys out of the NFC East. Not that I’m a traditionalist in my NFL fandom, it’s just that Dallas and St. Louis are such geographic outliers in the NFC…If you put Dallas in the NFC West, who replaces them in the NFC East? St. Louis? Is that really any better? Only thing that makes geographical sense is to put Dallas in the NFC South, and put Carolina in the East. NYG-PHI-WSH-CAR makes a fitting NFC East, DAL-NO-ATL-TB in the South fits too. But traditional rivalries are more important in the NFL than travel budgets, but a league making so much money can spend a bit more on travel. The NHL is not blessed with such revenue, which is why I based my alignment idea strictly on geography to minimize the costs of travel.

        • LoveWaffle says:

          Nevertheless, your realignment will NEVER happen! The current realignment is proof of this! When Quebec gets their expansion team, watch as the living corpse known as the Panthers are forced into the West to make room for Quebec. The fact that the Florida teams couldn’t maintain their divisional rivalries with Carolina and Washington is proof of how little influence they have.

          Also, Dallas is the western most Central Time Zone team in the NFC. Not that it matters as Dallas does not need to worry about being separated from those BIG market Eastern Time Zone teams they love so dearly, not to mention that St. Louis is (so far) screwing up their chances to maintaining the Rams…like they did last time with the Cardinals.

        • Reply says:

          If you put Dallas in the NFC West then St. Louis should be in the NFC South, Tampa Bay in the NFC North (for purposes of rekindling old divisional rivalries), and Detroit in the NFC East. Also, Miami belongs in the AFC South and Indianapolis belongs in the AFC East. Finally, putting Seattle in the AFC West and San Diego in the NFC West gives the former most of its old divisional rivals back and the latter a chance to play the team which beat them in the XXIX Bowl as a division rival. Besides, the Eagles and Giants wouldn’t miss South America’s team half as much as the Redskins would!

  2. NP_TO says:

    Tom! I didn’t see this until now. Welcome back! I’ve missed your “fool”ery.

    • tom says:

      It’s been fun to get “back in the game” for a bit these last few weeks. Life’s been too busy to go crazy obsessive like I used to, but I’ll definitely drop a few more in here from time to time. :)

      • LoveWaffle says:

        Nice try Tom, but your alignment is the reason you will NEVER be hired by the owners of any sporting league!

        -Two teams in Montreal? Yeah, that went so well to the point that the Montreal Maroons FOLDED in the 1930’s! You wanna know why? Because Montreal wasn’t big enough to support two teams long term! And don’t get me started on the territorial rights of the Montreal Canadiens that a second Montreal team would have to fight to get in there, not to mention the HIGH compensation fees (just ask the Washington Nationals) that the team would pay the Canadiens in order to play there!
        -Believe it or not, Hamilton is part of the Toronto media market, why? Quick, tell me the CBC affiliate in Toronto, now tell me the CBC affiliate in Hamilton. Just like how San Francisco and Santa Clara share the same TV and radio stations in the Bay Area, Hamilton has the same stations as Toronto and thus is part of the greater Toronto area which many morons seem to forget. In fact, Hamilton is much closer to Toronto than Santa Clara is to San Francisco. As for three hockey teams in the Toronto media market, please…if northern New Jersey/New York City couldn’t support three baseball teams in the long term (last time I checked hockey was NOWHERE as popular as basketball let alone football and baseball in that market), then three hockey teams are doomed to fail especially when you also have the Buffalo market right next door. But two teams can work, but the other team must play in Hamilton (for the same reason why the Angels are in Anaheim) and Buffalo must be sacrificed. You may not like having southern teams (I miss my Atlanta Thrashers), but a couple of them in the right places isn’t bad, especially if you don’t oversaturate the south like the NHL has. Oversaturating the northeast isn’t good either, there’s a reason why the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York (baseball) Giants, Philadelphia A’s and Hartford Whalers hockey team all relocated in the long term or why the San Francisco 49ers are considered a big market team while the Oakland Raiders are considered a small market team despite playing in the same market.
        -Speaking of oversaturation, the northern New Jersey/New York City media market is definitely NOT gonna have three hockey teams for reasons stated above. Of course it’s gonna be a while before either the Islanders or Devils (Rangers are forever) move due to new arenas that the NHL isn’t gonna abandon anytime soon, but the writing is on the wall as the Devils attendance is still poor. The Islanders too, but we’ll see if things approve when they move into Barclays in a couple of years. Of course, in addition to obsolete buildings, the Islanders or Devils will also need bad ownership and no chance in hell for a replacement building to materialize. And personally, I do think New York City will be a two team town in the far away future in the long term.
        -Columbus may not have been a good place for a hockey team, but I think Cleveland or Cincinnati could work.
        -Ah, contraction. We all want it don’t we? We all breath for it don’t we? Too bad that’s one genie that won’t be going back in a bottle and if the NHL follows the NFL’s lead by going to 32, then you’ll never ever see them go back to 30 again! Oh, well.
        -Four Conference, no division format. Smart move as that’s the only way Eastern Time Zone teams with Dallas Cowboy like political influence is gonna play in a “Western” division. Actually has a good chance to get the Player’s Association to change their mind about it someday unlike contraction.
        -You’ll never see divisions named after people ever again I can assure you. In fact I’m actually quite shocked that the owners of the 1970’s agreed to it in the first place! Can you imagine if the NFC East was named after Tom Landry or Roger Staubach? I bet the Giants, Redskins and Eagles would shoot that idea down in a hurry! Today’s NHL owners will never accept teams named after people who supported rival teams!

        I appreciate your pipe dream, but remember, it is a pipe dream that will never happen due to politics and oversaturation. Just my two cents.

        • tom says:

          Not my pipe dream, LoveWaffle, this is just me illustrating Nate Silver’s musings in the NY Times.

          That said, I agree with most of your points, however.

          One minor point of contention (and it’s just because I was born there), the “Greater Toronto Area” doesn’t include Hamilton. But yes, Hamilton is indeed part of the Toronto media market… though in addition to the shared media outlets and feeds between the GTA and Greater Hamilton (not to mention Buffalo), Hamilton has a few of it’s own.

          But again, most of your points are valid. In this particular realignment, Nate Silver was basing the choices almost exclusively on loose formulas of where the most hockey fans were and adding/removing teams to best leverage those data. Most of the realities that you mention, he didn’t apply… and yes, this is illogical.

          While your points are all based on logic, we all know that money is more important than logic when it comes to any business decisions (especially money trading hands from some fools into other richer men’s hands). While Toronto and Buffalo would certainly have beef with just plopping a team down in Hamilton, Markham or a second team in the Air Canada Centre, money would be able to ease those concerns. Most of those concerns are media-based, anyways, and now that the Maple Leafs are owned by two media companies they would certainly entertain the idea of another bit of content to fill their airwaves (read: make them more money), even if it were in or near the building their current Blue-and-White content creator plays.

          “Not enough support” has never been a reason why the NHL makes decisions… despite what Gary B. and the Boyz™ might say. An untapped market that may pan out, and that has a willing-and-ready combination of new ownership (to give current owners money in expansion or relocation fees) and local-government/citizenry (to give the new owner ridiculous tax concessions and/or land-grab deals)… that is what drives the NHLs decisions. Millions of “potential eye-balls” is easier to sell to advertisers than quite a few thousand “for sure eyeballs” (see Atlanta or Phoenix vs. Saskatoon or Hamilton).

          I do think the league has finally turned a bit of a corner on this (thankfully). The were willing to move the Coyotes and did move the Thrashers (unfortunately in your case), rather than have that much “inventory” of questionable franchises while so many cities are seemingly ready to not only do all that giveaway/land-grab stuff… but are actually “hockey-sensible” cities with histories of actually hockey and winters that get below freezing quite regularly.

          Not to say that the cities that don’t have the above criteria shouldn’t have their current teams, or get one (I am a Stars fan after all), but it seems like it is harder and harder for the league to keep saying no to Seattle, Hamilton, Milwaukee, et al, while pushing for the “non-hockey” cities. This is magnified greatly now by the work stoppages where the league cries about lack of revenue stability. Hard to whine about poverty when the “there’s gold in them hills” cities are shut out in favor of the “maybe we can find a little change in the couch” cities.

          Anywhoo, I’ve blathered on for far too long.

          Thanks for the comment, and long story short, I agree with your comments in a logic-based vacuum, but feel free to play the “logic barely applies” card in my myriad of realignment scenarios throughout this blog… except on this particular one… where it all really is someone else’s fault: Nate Silver. :)

  3. LoveWaffle says:

    Sorry Tom, I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t realize that you didn’t come up with that alignment, my bad.

    Darn shame for the Flames back then since they were actually successful compared to the Thrashers, but after the failing of the Cleveland Barons I can see why they did it. Again, darn shame since the Flames were the only southern team at the time, not like with the Thrashers who had the unfortunate luck to come in when the south was oversaturated. If only the NHL had try to grow the game with grassroot campaigns during the 1980’s when they had no expansion teams during that time, then some of those southern teams could do better. Oh, well.

    We’ll see on the greater Toronto area but this quote I found commenting on some mystery owner in Hamilton says it all:

    “Unless this un-named owner is Terry Pegula, I don’t see the NHL coming to Hamilton, even though this owner is following the Winnipeg model. The Sabres this season are making marketing inroads into their Canadian turf. During the preseason they had “Operation Invade Canada”, which included appearences throughout the Niagara region, and they also signed a TV deal with Bell.”

    Don’t underestimate Buffalo Sabre political influence. With that being said, keep an eye on the Oakland A’s to San Jose issue. Even though the MLB rejected the move in June, San Jose and A’s owner Lew Wolff are going to continue to fight the Giants territorial rights anyway. Hamilton/Toronto/Markham etc. need to take notes in case the A’s succeed, because if there’s one thing to be learned the best decisions are at times never chosen. If the NHL continues to support the dead weights like Phoenix and Miami, then I somehow doubt that the owners of the Leafs are gonna budge on the territorial rights either even if it makes them a bit more money.

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