Weighing in on NHL Realignment

Hockey’s Sport Change initiation has come sooner than was expected.  Perhaps I felt a tinge of remorse for leaving the NHL out the recent Assessment of Cities in the Big Three posts.  Perhaps it is the Big Four after all.

Most of my hockey knowledge was comes from “Ice Hockey,” the 1988 release for Nintendo Entertainment System.

My NHL knowledge is somewhat paltry.  I’m aware of some of the history and am familiar with the teams, but certainly lack the intimate details that I have for the NFL or Minor League Baseball.

However, I can’t help but weigh in when it comes to an actual realignment scenario; one that will likely be in place a year from now.  For a refresher, here’s what the NHL currently looks like:

Western Conference

Central: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis

Northwest: Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver

Pacific: Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose

Eastern Conference

Atlantic: New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto

Southeast: Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg

It all sounds just fine until you get to that last team: Winnipeg.  It made a lot more sense when the Jets were still the Atlanta Thrashers.  This is one of the main reasons for the discussion of realignment for next year.

The different colored circles around the logos represent the proposed divisions.

Here’s what was placed on the table and agreed to last winter:

Western Conference

Division A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

Division B: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg

Eastern Conference

Division C: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto

Division D: Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

I find this scenario to be pretty good on the whole.  The most striking element is that there are 16 teams in the West and 14 teams in the East.  The reason for this must have something to do with scheduling, so I’ll play along for now.  I’m going to weigh in using a few normal realignment criteria:

-Geography.  It seems that the main reason for this realignment is travel; and travel equality in particular.  The idea that teams should be on as equal footing as reasonable when it comes to travel distance.

-Rivalries.  I don’t know much about rivalries in the NHL, so had to look it up.  I’ll do my best.

-Bias.  As is the case in most sports, I favor historical teams and leave the futures of unestablished or relatively unpopular teams on uncertain terms.  In addition to the Original Six, I have a leaning toward Canadian franchises; as I feel that hockey is largely Canada’s sport.  I’ll get more into this in future posts about NHL relocation.

Don’t Mess with the Original Six!

My biggest issue with the proposed realignment scenario is Division C.  The five Northeast teams in that division are all solid rivals and should stick together.  Almost as an afterthought, the two Florida franchises are glued on.  There are mutable NHL teams in Nashville, Carolina, St. Louis, etc. that would be better rivals for the Florida franchises.  Let’s see what we can do:

(teams that moved are italicized)

Division A:  Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

Division B:  Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Nashville, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington

Division C: Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, OttawaToronto

Division D:  Minnesota, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg

Once again, Winnipeg is the Wildcard

What do you know?  It looks like Winnipeg is the wildcard once again.  If Winnipeg were still in Atlanta, a simple swap with Washington would do the trick.  The conference designations seemed worthless, so I tossed them out.  It seems kind of dumb to have a Western conference with 16 teams, when only 12 teams are West of the Mississippi; including two right on the Mississippi.  I’m not a big fan of this scenario, so I’ll share one that I think is more idea.   In this one, I’ve maintained a structure similar to the one currently in operation.  Some of the divisions are kept exactly the same and some are switched up.  Teams that were shuffled are italicized.  Here it is:

Western Conference

Central: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, St. Louis, Colorado

Northwest: Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver, Winnipeg

Pacific: Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose 

Eastern Conference

Atlantic: New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto

Southeast: Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Washington

Pretty simple stuff.  Just a three way trade: Colorado to the Central, Nashville to the Southeast, and Winnipeg to the Northwest.  Sure, Winnipeg and Minnesota are pretty far from Vancouver, but that’s part of playing in any pro league West of the Mississippi: you have to travel.  Additionally, I think Winnipeg would benefit from placement within the same division as fellow Canadians.  Big fan of Colorado in the Central.  I remember being in Colorado in 1997, watching the infamous brawl between the Avalanche and the Wings on TV.  That is a significant rivalry.  Nashville certainly makes just as much sense (if not more) in the Southeast as in the Central.

The brawlers share a division in my ideal realignment scenario.

I guess I’m getting my feet wet with the NHL.  Or should I say getting my feet icy?  I’ll have more posts about the NHL (and NBA) around the time of their face-off/tip-off dates in October.

Thanks for reading.  Tomorrow begins the two week “Boys of Summer” stretch.

SPORT CHANGE

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