NHL Realignment Project – Week 27

NHL Realignment Project - Week 27

Dear, Gary 

Consider this week’s week’s entry an open letter to Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors. I’ve completely grounded this realignment plan in reality. As mundane as that may seem compared to some of the admittedly farcical entries over the last six months, with the BOG meetings coming up soon, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. This is a really huge entry, so grab a drink and settle in.

Esteemed Board of Governers and Commissioner Bettman:

We the fans of the National Hockey League, and I, Thomas J. Fulery, the Internet’s (un)official voice of NHL realignment, humbly ask that you take our realignment plan under serious consideration as you meet on the 5th and 6th of December.

This plan is fair, it relieves stresses for teams that have been stuck in unfortunate division situations for years, honors two of the games greats AND keeps rivalries intact. It is a synthesis of systems that have been proven to popular in the past with systems that have worked well more recently. Geography and travel burdens have been taken into account as well as the realities of the potential changes in landscape over the next two-three years.

First, let’s have a look at the map, the breakdown, the benefits and the logistics. Following these, we share some contingencies that will future-proof this plan, leaving the league ready to absorb whatever changes come its way in the foreseeable future.

The Map (click anywhere on the map to enlarge):

NHL Realignment Map - Week 27

The Realigned NHL 2012-2013

The Breakdown:

The league retains it’s current two conference setup,but each conference is split into only two divisions. Conferences are named for (arguably) greatest offensive and defensive players in the history of the game, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, respectively. Divisions leverage geography for their naming. The table below shows the leagues setup and also illustrates heritage spread across the divisions with at least three Stanely Cup winners (*) and at least one Original Six (†) or ’67 Expansion (#) team in each of the four divisions.

The Wayne Gretzky Conference (14 teams)
Western Division Central Division
1. Anaheim Ducks * 1. Chicago Blackhawks *†
2. Calgary Flames * 2. Colorado Avalanche *
3. Edmonton Oilers * 3. Dallas Stars *#
4. Los Angeles Kings # 4. Minnesota Wild
5. Phoenix Coyotes 5. Nashville Predators
6. San Jose Sharks 6. St. Louis Blues #
7. Vancouver Canucks 7. Winnipeg Jets
The Bobby Orr Conference (16 teams)
Northern Division Eastern Division
1. Boston Bruins *† 1. Buffalo Sabres
2. Detroit Red Wings* † 2. Carolina Hurricanes *
3. Montreal Canadiens *† 3. Columbus Blue Jackets
4. New Jersey Devils * 4. Florida Panthers
5. New York Islanders * 5. Philadelphia Flyers *#
6. New York Rangers *† 6. Pittsburgh Penguins *#
7. Ottawa Senators 7. Tampa Bay Lightning *
8. Toronto Maple Leafs *† 8. Washington Capitals


The Benefits:

• Heritage — As mentioned above every division has at several Stanley Cup winners and at least one Original Six or ’67 Expansion team.

• Travel and TV start times — No division spans more than two time zones. Travel burdens are lessened and fans of traveling teams have less frequent late-start (and later finish) times to contend with.

• Rivalries —  Though we do lose Chicago and Detroit as division rivals, we maintain every other traditional/geographic rivalry (PIT/PHI, BOS/MTL, CGY/EDM, CHI/MIN etc). Additionally we create many new natural ones (PHI/WSH, PIT/BUF, DET/TOR, DAL/STL, DAL/COL, NYR/BOS, etc)



To accomodate the following schedule set up, the league will have to expand the season by four games leaving us with 86. Teams would play every other team in the league at least once at home and at least once on the road. Teams would play teams within their division four times per season and teams outside of their division once at home and once on the road. Additionally, each year, at team would play another home-and-away series against all the teams in a single division in the opposite conference.


Gretzky Conference Teams:

  • Versus 6 in-division rivals — 4 games (24 total)
  • Versus 7 non-division Gretzky Conference Teams — 2 games (14 total)
  • Versus 16 non-conference opponents in a both divisions — 2 games (32 total)
  • Versus 8 non-conference opponents in a single division (rotating back and forth each year) — 2 games (16 total)
  • 24+14+32+16 = 86 games


Orr Conference Teams:

  • Versus 7 in-division rivals — 4 games (28 total)
  • Versus 8 non-division Gretzky Conference Teams — 2 games (16 total)
  • Versus 14 non-conference opponents in a both divisions — 2 games (28 total)
  • Versus 7 non-conference opponents in a single division (rotating back and forth each year) — 2 games (14 total)
  • 28+16+28+14 = 86 games



The post-season breaks down as follows:

  • The 1st-4th place teams in each division qualify for the playoffs
  • The first and second rounds of the playoffs determine division champions (first round matchups: 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3) and yield a “final four”
  • The third round of the playoffs serves as the Conference Championships and yield the Stanley Cup finalists
  • The fourth round of the playoffs is the Stanley Cup Finals yielding the year’s NHL Champion


That is our plan for the 2011-2012 NHL Season.


Mapping the future potential directions of the NHL:

The next two maps look at very possible scenarios that the NHL may be faced with in the near future. The franchise in Phoenix is foremost in the minds of fans, but future movement may also happen. Speaking for myself, I would prefer that no additional relocations take place and that expansion be the route that brings (or returns) the NHL to cities currently without them (see the entire NHL Realignment Project for those scenarios). But the reality is that Phoenix needs attention and at least two cities in the NHL have the necessary facilities, the necessary fan base or both to make this franchise a success.
This first scenario, takes the 2011-2012 map proposed above and shows how alignment would look if the Phoenix franchise were purchased and moved to Kansas City. Realignment would be minimal with Colorado moving west to replace Phoenix in the Western Division and Kansas City taking the vacated spot in the Central Division. KC has an NHL-ready arena and a built-in natural rival in the St. Louis Blues. Neither logistics nor the structure would be altered from the system we described above. Here is the map:
NHL Realignment Map - Week 27 (PHX-to-KC)

The NHL Realigned - Near Future (PHX-to-KC)

The second scenario takes the same 2011-2012 map we presented earlier and shows how alignment would look if the Phoenix franchise were purchased and relocated to Quebec City. Quebec has a passionate fan base ready to reclaim their position in the NHL (not to mention their rivalry with the Habs). Realignment would be a bit more complex than the Kansas City model, but still quite feasible. Quebec would be part of the Northern Division, Columbus would move across our conference divide into the Central Division, claiming the spot made vacant by Colorado’s move to the Western Division, in turn filling the void made by Phoenix’s move to Quebec. Detroit complete realignment with a move to the Eastern Division to keep both Orr Conferences at eight teams and maintaining the logistics/structure we outlined above.
NHL Realignment Map - Week 27 (PHX-to-QBC)

The NHL Realigned - Near Future (PHX-to-QBC)

In sum, this is the collected and recommended thoughts on NHL realignment and potential relocation(s) from the NHL Realignment Project. In the coming weeks, we will continue our exercise of mapping out potential scenarios for the shape, size and structure of (y)our beloved NHL.


Thank you for your time and attention.

— Thomas J. Fulery (and the fans of the NHL)


(H/T to oilersnation.com for the original map)


As always, thanks for reading (especially you, Gary). Until next Sunday!

— TF

Make sure to check out the entire NHL Realignment Project ».