NHL Rumors: Whatever Happened to Realignment?

By Krista Golden
Realignment wouldn’t affect the draft, but everything else would be a mess. Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

With everything that’s been happening (or not happening) with labor negotiations, hockey fans and pundits alike have been educating themselves on details – HRR, escrow, contracts. There are so many nuances to these proposals that it can make your head spin.

Lost in the negotiations is something that was talked about late last year but hasn’t been mentioned since – realigning the NHL. Not expanding or relocating teams, but overhauling the division/conference structure as it stands now.

Let’s review the proposal: four new conferences, two with eight teams and two with seven teams. Not new divisions, conferences. No more divisions. Every team would play a home-and-home set against teams outside their conference and 5-6 games with each team within it. The new conferences are supposed to cut down on travel time, but even  Mr. Spock would call that reasoning illogical if he looked at the conference containing both Florida teams, both Ontario teams, the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens.

Not a peep has been made about the proposal since the NHLPA rejected it on the grounds that they weren’t given a schedule to review. If the season was to begin – and that’s looking shaky – the realignment plan wouldn’t kick in because of the rejection. At the earliest, we’d see it implemented in the 2013-14 season. But is it still a go?

Many people would say yes due to the aforementioned reduction in travel. Others (including myself) would ask why it wouldn’t be simpler to just swap the Winnipeg Jets, who stick out like a sore thumb in the Southeast Division, with the Nashville Predators, the odd duck in the Central Division. You would think that was proposed. It was, but it wasn’t the Predators to be swapped, it was the Detroit Red Wings or Columbus Blue Jackets, both of whom are almost as far from the other Southeast Division teams as the Jets are. That seems to make very little sense.

There’s also the problem of postseason play. With no hard and fast explanation of that, it would be difficult to move ahead with schedules. If both the league and the players truly want this, they need to sit down and figure out what to do with that. Don’t muddle through the season and cobble something together at the last minute.

Don’t forget that two conferences are only seven teams. That might seem to indicate that expansion would be in the cards, but according to league commissioner Gary Bettman, there are absolutely no plans for expansion or relocation. Harumph.

Given what’s been going on due to the lockout, plans for realignment are the last thing on anyone’s mind. If and when it comes back to the table, the proposal should be reviewed with fresh eyes, more logic and a better sense of the future of the league.

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