Stoney Point - July 18, 2014 - There has been a great deal of speculation in the media recently about Wayne Gretzky being part of a group that would bring NHL hockey to Seattle. Those rumours follow closely on ones that suggest that Quebec City is close to bringing back the Nordiques. Based on these two possible NHL destinations, I would like to make the following NHL expansion and realignment proposal for the 2015-16 season.
The National Football League is one of the most successful professional sports leagues in the world. Their format consists of two conferences, each with four divisions of four teams. I have somewhat followed that template for my proposal, except I have suggested divisions that have closer geographical ties than those in the NFL. Due to the number of games in the NHL, it doesn’t make sense for a team in Dallas to be in the same division as teams on the Atlantic coast or Florida teams being in the same divisions as teams from New York state.
In the Western Conference, I am proposing the following divisions:
- Canada West - Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg
- Central - Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota
- Pacific - Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle
- South West - Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis
In the Eastern Conference, I am proposing the following divisions:
- Canada East - Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto
- Metropolitan - New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
- Atlantic - Boston, Buffalo, NY Islanders, NY Rangers
- South East - Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay
This divisional structure retains all four current division names and adds four new ones. I chose not to name them after individuals (ie: Gretzky, Howe, etc) as it may lead to too much debate over who should be included or excluded.
In terms of schedule structure, I propose the each team continue to play 82 games as per the following breakdown:
- Division - Six games (3 Home/3 Away) against the three other teams in the team’s division for a total of 18 games.
- Rival Division - Four games (2 Home/2 Away) against the four other teams in the team’s rival division for a total of 16 games. Like the NFL, the rival division will rotate each season – in this case on a seven year cycle.
- Remaining Teams - Two games (1 Home/1 Away) against the 24 other teams in the NHL for a total of 48 games.
Divisions – a closer look
Canada West - (CAL, EDM, VAN, WPG) This division will take NHL fans back to the old Smythe Division days with the likes of Fleury, Gretzky, Smyl and Hawerchuk. While this division does span three time zone, I believe it is one that fans in Western Canada would enjoy watching.
Central - (CHI, CBS, DET, MIN) As a Chicago Bears fan, I couldn’t help but see the value of having a division that closely resembles the NFC North. Bears, Lions and Vikings – Blackhawks, Red Wings and Wild. No NHL team in Green Bay, so we slide the Blue Jackets in here. Effectively, Detroit and Columbus move back to the west with this proposal, but based on the schedule structure above their travel requirements do not increase by the change.
Pacific - (ANA, LA, SJ, SEA) The three California teams and the expansion team from Seattle form this division. Natural rivalries already exist amongst the three teams in the south and with Gretzky part of the Seattle franchise, new rivalries will develop as well.
South West - (ARI, COL, DAL, STL) It appears that the Coyotes have sorted out their financial issues and are now rooted in Phoenix. This division is probably the most geographically large of the eight, but it does group all of the south west cities together.
Canada East - (MTL, OTT, QUE, TOR) The Battle of Quebec returns and joins the Battle of Ontario – doesn’t get much better than that! As a Maple Leafs fan, I love the prospect of seeing this division. Only regret here is that there was no room to fit in the Bruins.
Metro - (NJ, PHI, PIT, WSH) This is the geographically smallest division but one with a few heated rivalries already. Crosby – Ovechkin, the Battle of Pennsylvania highlight a number of interesting match-ups in this division.
Atlantic - (BOS, BUF, NYI, NYR) One of three divisions with two original six teams in it. The three teams from the state of New York along with the Bruins. It is hard to imagine a scenario where the Rangers and Islanders are not in the same division.
South East - (CAR, FLA, NSH, TB ) With Detroit and Columbus moving back to the Western Conference, this proposal calls for the Nashville Predators to move to the East. While Nashville is slightly west of Detroit and Columbus on a map, it appears to make sense to combine them with the other south east teams in Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay.
In terms of playoff format, I propose their continue to be eight team in each conference that qualify for the post-season as follows:
Division Champions -The four divisional champions from each conference will be seeded 1 to 4.
Wild Card Teams - The four next highest conference teams based on regular season standings (regardless of division) will be seeded 5 to 8.
Playoff Tree - Round one in each conference will see best of seven series with the following pairings – 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5. At the this round, the teams will be re-seeded based on regular season results with the following pairings – 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3. Same thing will happen in round three. The Stanley Cup Final will continue to see the two conference champions squaring off.
Clearly, there are countless options as to how a newly expanded NHL would be realigned. Based on the success of the NFL, I am a big proponent of the eight division format. I also think that this format lends itself nicely to the formation of two Canadian divisions.
What do you think? You can post your comments below.
Map of Divisions: