Shift Change: NHL Realignment

by Omar Moubayed

Last season we saw Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL brass make bold moves in order to fix the current alignment of the NHL. Winnipeg earns more frequent flyer miles than any other team, playing in the NHL’s Southeastern division following the franchise’s relocation from Atlanta. Where is Winnipeg? If you open a map you can find Winnipeg in the Manitoba province of Canada. Yeah, that is a major problem. The move proposed by the minds over at NHL headquarters was to remove geographic location from the equation and create a four conferences  composed of seven or eight teams. The proposal, shown in the table below, is a quick fix to a bigger overall problem.

Conference A “Pacific”

Conference B “Central”

Conference C “East”

Conference D “Northeast”

Anaheim

Chicago

Boston

Carolina

Calgary

Columbus

Buffalo

New Jersey

Colorado

Dallas

Florida

N.Y. Islanders

Edmonton

Detroit

Montreal

N.Y. Rangers

Los Angeles

Minnesota

Ottawa

Philadelphia

Phoenix

Nashville

Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh

San Jose

St. Louis

Toronto

Washington

Vancouver

Winnipeg


After a quick glance I would understand if you said, “Omar this makes perfect sense geographically.”  Well here are some flaws in this new proposed conference system, which is divided into time zones: If the big problem now is that Winnipeg is traveling too much, how does Florida and Tampa Bay primarily traveling north of the Canadian border sound? Not too good if you’re a fan of the Lightning or the Panthers. Look at the map above. How could Nashville or Carolina not land in the same conference with Tampa Bay and Florida? What about Colorado, who has a three-state barrier from other NHL teams in almost every direction.

 

The bigger issue with realignment is keeping historical rivalries in place. For example, the NHL couldn’t bear to lose the Battle of Ontario, the Battle of Pennsylvania, Broadway vs Broad Street, and my personal favorite, the Battle of the Sunshine State. There are a lot of elements that go into the scheduling process and I would be the first to say that I’m thankful I don’t have to deal with it. Another example: If a team plays Florida or Tampa Bay they must play the other afterward to cut down on travel costs. Issues like this are what make realignment such a difficult task to map out.

 
Problems continue to arise when you realize that instead of two conferences consisting of 15 teams, in which eight of those teams make the playoffs, the new structure will be four conferences of seven to eight teams in which four will make the playoffs. Contending for the playoffs becomes even more difficult. And why do the “Pacific” and “Central” conferences have to battle against an extra team, unlike the  two “Eastern” conferences? The NHLPA rejected this structure for that very reason. Certain teams will have an advantage over others for securing a playoff spot because there is no competitive analysis taken into account. Look at Conference D as an example. It makes the World Cup’s “Group of Death” look like a joke. Under the current format, five of Conference D’s seven teams are perennial “locks” to make the playoffs, while Carolina and the Islanders are often in the basement.

 
Let’s take a look at Conference C. This is probably the most “up-in-the-air” conference of the four. In the current system, the only lock year in and year out in this new conference is Boston. Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, and Tampa Bay are all capable of being Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders at the exact same time. Florida and Ottawa will always be dark horses in this setup. Additionally, the aforementioned increase in travel for the two Florida teams. The other five teams are no more than 550 miles apart; while Florida or Tampa Bay would constantly be logging flights in excess of 1,400 miles. In regard to rivalries, there are no rivalries in this conference that include Florida or Tampa Bay other than the “Florida Showdown”.

 
In Conference B you begin to see the problems with the eight team conferences. All of these teams are located in the Central Time Zone, so traveling isn’t a problem, but look at the statistical mess you will have here. Six of the eight teams are currently almost always in a battle for a playoff spot. Detroit and Chicago make the playoffs virtually every year and teams such as Nashville and Dallas would have a better shot to do so in Conference C. The rivalries are what will likely keep this conference together with the exception of Nashville or Columbus. Chicago vs. Detroit draws huge TV ratings every year on the national scale with games that feature St. Louis close behind.

 
In Conference A there will always be the question of whether  the Coyotes will remain in Phoenix or if their fate lies in Quebec City or Seattle (more on this soon). All the California teams have to be together, and Vancouver has strong rivalries with Edmonton and Calgary no matter how one-sided they might be. Four of the last seven Stanley Cup teams from the Western conference will have come out of this “Pacific” conference (Los Angeles, Vancouver, Anaheim, and Edmonton). Pair those teams with a perennial playoff team like San Jose and an up-and-coming team in Colorado and this will make Conference D look weak. However, geographically there is nothing else you could do with this conference; these teams have to be stuck together.

 
It’s clear that competition had nothing to do with this proposal. The sole purpose of this realignment proposition were time zones and rivalries. I did some homework before preparing this for all of you, and I have come up with a proposition that I believe is worthy of consideration. In this format all major rivalries will remain, competition is fairly even, and the breakdown is fair for all teams in respective divisions. While I am not a fan of the “four conference” breakdown, I stuck with it in an effort to make it easy for the casual NHL fan. So without further ado, I present you with my realignment scheme for the 2013-2014 NHL season:

Conference A “Pacific”

Conference B “Central”

Conference C “Northeast”

Conference D “East”

Anaheim

Chicago

Buffalo

Boston

Calgary

Colorado

Montreal

Carolina

Edmonton

Columbus

N.Y. Rangers

Florida

Los Angeles

Dallas

N.Y. Islanders

Nashville

Phoenix

Detroit

Philadelphia

New Jersey

San Jose

Minnesota

Pittsburgh

Tampa Bay

Vancouver

St. Louis

Toronto

Washington

Winnipeg

Ottawa


In this set-up there will be a nail-biting, edge of your seat, excruciating battle for the last couple of playoff spots in every conference every year. Time zones are broken twice in the case of Colorado and Nashville, but geographically this is about as good as it can be when you account for competitive balance. Major rivalries that the NHL wants to keep in place remain intact and could possibly be featured in better primetime slots.

 

Regardless of which plan the NHL chooses, the NHLPA will be sure to find a problem with any proposition. There is quicker fix to this whole mess, which would be to move Winnipeg to the Northwest division, Nashville to the Southeast, and Minnesota from the Northwest to the Central division. This would lock in 15 teams to both regions, maintain the two conference league (three divisions per conference), and eight playoff teams per conference. Since the move will essentially result in a one-for-one trade, competitive balance won’t shift as the West will receive a cellar-dweller while the East picks up a perennial playoff contender. This course of action is still probably better than the proposed four conference split playoff scenario.

 
With the locations of the NHL teams and the problem that 30 can’t be split into four evenly; only expansion could settle the “who gets seven or eight team conference”issue. Three key cities to look for as possible homes for an NHL franchise in the near future include Seattle, Quebec City, or possibly a second team in Toronto. Seattle is almost an absolute certainty for being next in line for an NHL franchise, being the only western city that is currently prepared for a team. Key Arena, home of the now defunct Seattle SuperSonics, is capable of holding more than 15,000 a night for hockey. Quebec City should be next in line for the east but an arena is needed badly. The Colisée Pepsi, or in English, “Pepsi Coliseum”, can seat approximately 15,000 but the arena was built in 1949 and is outdated and no longer fit for an NHL team.

 
I hope you have enjoyed this piece. I would like to say it’s a privilege to contribute to the growing success of this website and write with such fine folks. It’s an even bigger privilege to call the folks here at 4FanSports friends. As always, any hockey related questions you may have can be left in the comments section under this article and I will answer them to best of my ability.

Omar Moubayed can be reached on Twitter @Moubayed11

Follow 4FanSports on Twitter @4FanSports4FS

Like us on Facebook!

Advertisements

One response to “Shift Change: NHL Realignment

  1. Pingback: The Road to Atlanta: East Region | 4FanSports·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s