Imagining How the NHL Will Look in 2015: Part I Canadian Pipe Dreams

The NHLPA has given its approval for the proposed realignment plan for the 2013-14 season yet included the ominous statement “to be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season”. Obviously this could just be a ploy by Fehr and co. to not let the owners run wild, but more than likely it gives them a chance to try this system out and more importantly, after 2015 a few dominoes should fall, namely relocation and/or expansion.

The Phoenix Coyotes situation has dragged on far longer than anyone would like to admit, sooner or later this team will no doubt have to move with Seattle as the most heavily rumoured destination. Also, don’t forget that there will be a new NHL sized arena in Markham, Ontario ready in 2014 and one in Quebec City the following year, making these two cities very likely destinations for expansion.

Now if we were to get two more teams in Eastern Canada how on earth would that work within the current setup? Obviously with there already being eight teams in both Eastern Conference divisions, it probably wouldn’t work directly, unless we want to put Quebec with the Pacific Division, so it would require some work.

In this post we’ll look at the most likely possibilities to resolve this oddly complex problem that looks like it has a very simple solution yet always seems to cause some problems…

For the purpose of this post, we’ll rechristen the Quebec team the Nordiques and the second Toronto Area team the Legacy since that rumour was floating around for awhile, even if it is a stupid name.

Here’s the first logical, geographical (and therefore least likely) option.

NHL Alignment Map Cropped - 2015 Four Division Plan with Phoenix Quebec Markham Logical

So here we have Detroit and Columbus get booted back to the Western Conference to make room for the two teams gained in Eastern Canada, this makes Colorado have to join the Pacific teams which is easy enough. The Coyotes playing Phoenix or Seattle makes no difference with respect to this option, since either way they’d be in the Pacific Division.

Now here’s the hard part: There is only room for one extra team to join the re-renamed Northeast Division which doesn’t have room for both Florida teams who have to go to the Atlantic where they belong, so the most Northeasternly “Atlantic” team has to move division, and that unfortunately is the Pittsburgh Penguins which takes them away from Philadelphia. The Pens-Flyers rivalry is the entire reason that the Florida Teams are lumped with the Northeast teams, so while this alignment may make the most sense geographically, it’s not the best schedule for Rivalry Night on NBC Sports, with all those Penguins-Nordiques games to show.

So the NHL doesn’t want to upset the Penguins, Flyers, Red Wings, or NBC, so who do they want to upset? Well let’s look at recent history and we can see who they don’t care too much about…

NHL Alignment Map Cropped - 2015 Four Division Plan with Phoenix Quebec Markham screw Florida

 

That’s right, those two teams in Florida haven’t suffered enough! This would make the Lightning and Panthers the two Eastern Time Zone teams in the Western Conference team, but it has to be someone, right? Add in the fact that there isn’t that big of a trip to Nashville, Dallas, or even St. Louis and it’s not actually too bad, long trips to Winnipeg notwithstanding.

Both Eastern divisions would be absolute gold mines for the CBC and NBC respectively, it’s hard not to imagine the NHL going ga-ga over this. Now if we care a bit more about geography we could trade Tampa and Florida for Carolina and Columbus, which could make a bit more sense, even if it would be tough on Carolina.

In both of these scenarios, scheduling is not too complex: each teams breakdown would be 32 games against non-Conference opponents (2 against each of the 16 teams, plus 30 in division games (4 against 5 teams and 5 against the other 2 on a rotating basis), plus 20 games against non-division games in your Conference (2 against four of the teams and 3 against the other four). 32+30+20=82.

But why must we be so caught up with the four division paradigm? Remember when the NHL was pushing for four Conferences, well two more Northern teams can give us a really interesting option with that actually…NHL Alignment Map Cropped - 2015 Four Conference Plan with Phoenix Quebec Markham part 2

Here we get a very simple design with a clump of teams in the North, South, East, and West. Sure Columbus is hardly “South” and Colorado is barely “West” but the line has to be drawn somewhere. Both the Southern and Northern Conferences end up with five teams in the Eastern Time Zone and three in the Central, but that’s not too bad. The travel distances are obviously lower in the Eastern Conference, but are pretty equitable everywhere else.

Plus, Detroit gets reunited with Chicago and we get a cool hybrid of the current Northeast Division and the old Norris Division. Sure Toronto and Montreal are split, but they have spent more of their time since the 1967 apart than together anyway.

The biggest concern is the lack of star power teams in the Southern Conference, but who knows what big players will end up on any of those teams. Add in the fact that one of them will be in the “Final Four” every year to build some momentum in some struggling markets.

With this, we’ll go back to the NHL’s four-Conference schedule, each team plays a home-and-home against the 22 non-Conference teams and then the other 38 games against in Conference opponents, six against three teams and five against the other four, bringing things to 82 games nicely.

Now the second option is probably the most likely, but the third one is pretty fun to think about and it sure beats the idea of Quebec being in the Pacific or Boston in the Central,doesn’t it?

Next time we’ll look at a few different options like having teams in Phoenix and Seattle, and just how that will make things look.

 

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