Things look bleak right about now for us fans of the NHL. The lockout has moved from meeting rooms to courtrooms. The players (and their leader) have decided that what the NHL has to offer is just not good enough (and honestly, I can’t blame them), and they are willing to fight to the end for something a little more fair. I’m not gonna get too into the woods on the issues causing the lockout, other than to say two of the problems (and they go hand-in-hand) are there are a few too many teams in places where the game, as it is currently set up, just isn’t sustainable AND the more successful teams think too much in terms of “me, me, me” and not in terms of a healthy league top to bottom creating a rising tide that lifts all boats.
But I digress.
Whether we get a super short season in the beginning of 2013 or not, the earliest we’ll see realignment is for the 2013-14 season. For the record, I think that the league will do so, and will either but something similar to what they proposed last December back on the table (and the foreshadowing of expansion that comes with it), or they will opt for a short term fix that is just a tweaking of the current system. With that in mind, I present the last official entry of the NHL Realignment Project.
While I had flirted with the idea of going into another elaborate description of expansion and crazy scheduling pods and special rivalry games, I thought… let’s just get back to basics and get something doable and sensible done (are you listening to me, Gary and Donald?).
So while this does cause the eager fans in Seattle, Quebec City, Markham, et. al. to have to wait a bit more before landing teams (via expansion and/or relocation), this is actually something that can be done quickly, without ruffling tooooooooo many feathers and addresses some (but not all) of the beefs with the NHL’s current lineup. The league would do well to take this step, even if subsequent expansion renders it obsolete soon, if for no other reason than to say, “Hey, we’re past the dark days and moving in a positive direction.”
Other than a few slight changes to the map, the main thing this week’s scenario introduces is something I call “Rivalry Pods.”
I’ve always tried to keep as many of the league’s rivalries intact during my realignment scenarios, but you can’t get them all neatly into divisions no matter how you break ‘em up. But now, with rivalry pods, you get to add a few additional games versus rivals each year. The rivalries in the NHL don’t all line up perfectly, but this allows for teams like DET and TOR to have an extra home-and-home each season, or DAL and SJS… even thought they are actually in different divisions. But, I’m getting ahead of myself—first we’ve got to look at the divisions…
NHL Realignment Map – Week 52
The main changes we see are moving Winnipeg out of the Southeast and Dallas out of the Pacific. To most outside observers, these are the most glaring anomalies in the league’s current alignment. While Minnesota and Winnipeg still have to travel two time zones over for games in the arenas of three of the division-mates, unlike what Dallas had, they at least have each other as near-ish neighbors… not to mention those two cities have no problems retaining eyeballs on TV sets for late starting hockey games. Hockey is king in Manitoba, is and arguably so in Minnesota too, so the Pacific Time Zone is less of an issue.
It’ll be interesting to have a division with four Canadian teams in it to kinda counter-balance the three that are US-only. While Detroit doesn’t get it’s long-standing wish to move to the Eastern Conference, I think it’s time we all admit the NHL just isn’t going to do that. They’ll go to the four-conference option first, rendering that argument null. Since this is short-term plan, there is no need to introduce that upheaval now.
||Los Angeles Kings
||Detroit Red Wings
||San Jose Sharks
||St. Louis Blues
||New Jersey Devils
||New York Islanders
||Columbus Blue Jackets
||New York Rangers
||Tampa Bay Lightning
|Toronto Maple Leafs
Other than the league’s current crazy alignment, the other main beef I have is scheduling. This new version of the NHL would include a schedule to that has every team visit to every arena each season at least once. That’ just something that makes sense to me. This weird “some years here, some years not… some years you each get a home game, some years, just one of you hosts the other” thing has got to go. To solve this, allow me to introduce…
While the division breakdowns of this realignment scenario address a great majority of the rivalries in the NHL, with a little creative thinking, we can work more rivalry games into the schedule. Teams would play each of their pod-rivals in an extra home-and-home series sprinkled throughout the season. I’d suggest use of third jerseys or throwback jerseys for these games (at least for the home team). I’ll get into more specifics on the schedule in just a bit, but first let’s look at the pods themselves:
|Rivalry Pod 1
||CHI, DAL, MIN, SJS, VAN
|Rivalry Pod 2
||ANA, CGY, EDM, LAK, PHX
|Rivalry Pod 3
||BOS, COL, DET, MTL, TOR
|Rivalry Pod 4
||FLA, NSH, STL, TBL, WPG
|Rivalry Pod 5
||BUF, CBJ, OTT, PHI, PIT
|Rivalry Pod 6
||CAR, NJD, NYI, NYR, WSH
Granted, not all teams within pods are rivals of all other teams in the pod (that’s just not possible to align), but there is plenty of historical bad-blood, and/or geographical proximity amongst the teams to make most of these games extra-interesting. DET/TOR, DET/COL, CHI/VAN, DAL/SJS, DAL/MIN, oh my! Coupled with divisional rivalries, we get more of what makes the NHL great—rivalry games—without overdoing it with just playing more and more games against your division-mates. I think this’d be the perfect balance, and really good for the game.
Against each divisional opponent — 3 home and 3 away games:
6 games x 4 teams = 24 games
Against each non-divisional conference opponent — 1 home and 1 away game:
2 games x 10 teams = 20 games
Against each non-conference opponent — 1 home and 1 away game:
2 games x 15 teams = 30 games
Against each pod-rival — an additional home-and-home series:
2 games x 4 teams = 8 games
24+20+30+8 = an 82 game season
Playoffs remain unchanged from current format of 8 qualifying teams from each conference playing in a four-round (all best-of-seven) knock-out tournament. Three division champs from each conference are seeded 1-3 and the next five best records round out the 8 conference qualifiers.
Round 1 — Conference Quarter-finals:
1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5
Round 2 — Conference Semi-finals (teams reseeded after first round):
1 vs 4, 2 vs 3
Round 3 — Conference Finals:
Two surviving teams vie for Conference Championship
Round 4 — Stanley Cup Finals:
Eastern Conference Champion vs Western Conference Champion
A Big Thank You:
Okay guys. That’s it! Over a year ago, I challenged myself to show the endless possibilities of realignment (and the fact that none of them will make everyone happy). While my “52 scenarios in 52 weeks” plan fell through because of life and work, I did finally see it through to the end. Thank you so much for reading and commenting over the last (quite a) few months. Your input has shaped quite a few of the proposals I put forward (killing the Buffa-slug logo… pointing out that breaking up PHI and NYR is just as bad in Flyer eyes as breaking up PHI and PIT… hearing from Columbus Blue Jacket and Phoenix Coyote fans (and Atlanta fans) who are just as passionate as any out there… here’s to hoping that the stupid strife of this lockout will at least create a smarter, better, more fair league where no one even again has to suffer through what the fans in Atlanta (yes, there are plenty), Hartford and Quebec City have had to endure in the relatively recent past.
Please keep coming back to the site to check out more hockey infographics, more polls, more silly venn diagrams and other (mostly) hockey shenanigans… and, almost undoubtedly more realignment scenarios (I just won’t be able to contain myself).
So thanks again for the patience and the participation. And here’s to hoping that the fans in Seattle and Quebec City get teams soon and that the league resolves its issues, and becomes healthy enough to grow and flourish forever.