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Should the NHL blow up its conference format for realignment?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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The NHL's Board of Governors met on Tuesday, giving conditional approval of the verification line and verifying that the conditions surrounding next season's realignment are, frankly, complicated.

From Dan Rosen of NHL.com:

A number of realignment scenarios were laid out in front of the governors, including ideas to keep the current six-division format or move into a four-conference format, featuring two conferences of eight teams and two conferences of seven teams.

Completely overhauling the current system into a four-conference system would obviously require the League to change the playoff format as well.

"There are no shortage of issues and possibilities," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "There are a number of clubs that would like to see an adjustment as far as where they're aligned, and every club that felt that way had an opportunity to explain to the board why. We went around the room to get a sense of what people were thinking."

At the heart of this matter, which should be settled in December: The Winnipeg Jets moving out of the Southeast Division in 2012.

Under the current alignment, they'd move to the Northwest Division, meaning someone from the Western Conference would come back east. Seeing as how the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators all have their desires to realign to the Eastern Conference, it's either make some tough decisions or blow up the current system.

This "four conference plan" sounds suspiciously like the "four division" plan Bettman proposed back at the NHL Draft, according to Y! Sports NHL columnist Nick Cotsonika in June:

Sources told the Ottawa Sun the league would have four divisions — the Pacific, Midwest, East and South. Two divisions would have eight teams; two would have seven. Teams would play a balanced schedule in the regular season, with the top four teams in each division making the playoffs. The first round would be divisional play. Then teams would reseed for conference play.

One NHL executive said Saturday the plan would have four divisions — two with eight teams, two with seven — as outlined in the Ottawa Sun report, but he was vague about whether there would even be Western and Eastern Conferences. He said the divisions would be based on time zones, a common-sense solution to TV and travel problems that some teams face and have been frankly unfair for years.

Essentially, it's a format that'll have two reps from each conference entering an eight-team tournament for the Stanley Cup.

As we've said before, the notion of divisional play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is sexier than Scar-Jo with a cell phone camera.

It harkens back to the gory, glory days of the Patrick/Adams/Norris/Smythe playoff battles, where rivalries were born and burned into our memories as fans.

One of the formats discussed on Tuesday was an all-Canadian division. Could you imagine the mania in seeing two all-Canadian first round matchups? Every. Single. Season?

The two questions about any proposed format:

1. Would it resolve some of the lingering issues with markets like Detroit, Columbus and Nashville, insofar as travel time and the chance to give their fans fewer games starting late on the West Coast?

2. Would it improve the current playoff format?

    That second question is the essential one.

    The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the greatest annual tournament in all of sports. (March Madness is fabulous, no doubt, but talk to us when they go seven games per round.) Doing anything that makes the regular season more equitable or competitive at the expense of the Playoffs just isn't something worth doing.

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