NHL Realignment Plan: Solving a Simple Problem with Major Surgery

By Emma Harger
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The wildly unpopular NHL realignment plan that surfaced at the end of 2011 and was rejected by the NHL Players Association is back and better–or worse–than ever.

The details of the four conferences remain basically the same as they did before. One Eastern conference would have the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. The other Eastern conference would have the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Out west is where things get a little hairier since both proposed western conferences have just seven teams apiece instead of eight. The Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets are in one western conference. The other contains the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.

These hypothetical conferences don’t really have names yet, but some fans like the idea of naming them for NHL legends. May I suggest the Orr Conference for the one with Boston? Perhaps the Lemieux Conference for the one with Pittsburgh? How about the Mikita Conference with Chicago and then, of course, the Gretzky Conference for the one with two of his former teams!

Now that I’ve had my fun, time to focus on the glaring problems with this plan again. It’s funny that the eastern conferences should be the ones with less room for expansion, since everyone is salivating over the idea of Markham (Ontario) getting a team and possibly a revival of the Quebec Nordiques somewhere down the road. Those are both located on the eastern side of Canada. If they join the league, what happens then? Where would they go under this strange plan? What about western expansions?

The geography in that first eastern conference is odd–why not switch the Florida teams out for the Pennsylvania teams in the Orr Conference since in the Lemieux Conference, the Floridians would be closer to the other teams? That means having to rename that conference, of course. There’s also the breakup of a huge Original Six rivalry between Chicago and Detroit (pictured above in action). Sure, they’d still play in inter-conference play, but not nearly as often.

Once the regular season ends, trying to figure out how playoffs would work is a very difficult task.

In the new conferences, the top three teams from each one would make the playoffs. Then, two wild card teams would get an invitation to the postseason. Yes, it’s kind of like baseball, except without any one-game playoffs for wild cards. The matchups would be first place versus fourth place and second versus third, although no one knows how the wild card teams would be slotted into that structure. Would it change or remain the same each season?

To reiterate: this plan is being proposed without anyone knowing for certain how the playoffs would work. There’s also an imbalance here because 10 eastern teams are in the running for wild card status, but only eight western teams.

But wait! There’s more! Someone crafted an alternate plan just in case this one wasn’t headache-inducing enough. This one would have two conferences divided into two divisions: Central and Atlantic in the East and Midwest and Pacific in the West. It’s not clear which teams would go where in this plan, especially with those names, but the wild card team would definitely be seeded fourth in the playoffs, up against the division winner with the most points.

Thanks to Bob McKenzie for at least trying to explain this hot mess of a plan via his Twitter. The good news, perhaps, is that this plan has a sort of fail-safe built into it. After three seasons under a new plan, the NHLPA could meet with the league to discuss any necessary changes.

I found a simple way to fix the issue of one team in a division being geographically disparate from the other four. It is astonishing in its simplicity, which is perhaps why it was not considered as a viable option. Simply swap the Jets for the Predators. Now the Jets are in the Central Division and the Predators are in the Southeast Division.

Yes, there is the fact that Nashville is in the Central time zone, but Eastern teams located in the Eastern time zone already deal with that quibble when they play the Jets. Starting a game an hour later by Eastern standards isn’t the end of the world.

In my vision, the status quo remains the same. Eight teams from each evenly-matched conference make the playoffs. There’s no need for any sort of wild card chatter. Travel does remain an issue for some teams, but unfortunately that might just have to be part and parcel of playing in two humongous countries. Besides, NHL teams should be thankful they’re not riding the bus to get to faraway destinations like their brothers in the AHL and ECHL do.

The NHLPA rejected this boneheaded proposal last time, but the chatter about their willingness to possibly approve it is a little more positive now. That being said, the view from fans is quite a bit more complex and overwhelmingly negative. Why even consider blowing up the entire structure of the league and introducing peculiar, off-balanced new proposals basically to just fix an issue in one division?


Emma Harger is a Boston Bruins and NHL writer for RantSports.com. Follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook and add her to your network on Google.

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