Extreme realignment scenarios for the National Hockey League

Puck Daddy

National Hockey League realignment plans are like garbage cans: Most of us have them and the majority of them reek.

Some are too timid. Some go waaaaay too far. Yet we all believe, at the end of the day, that our kung-fu is the strongest when it comes to figuring out the future of the NHL.

This week, Bob McKenzie's reporting on the Detroit Red Wings flip-flopping with the Winnipeg Jets next season — placing the Motor City team in the Southeast Division, which is a complete fumble — led to an expanded post that spelled out several scenarios for realignment. What if the Columbus Blue Jackets move to the East? Or the Nashville Predators? Can the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild shift divisions? Will the Vancouver Canucks ever be shipped to the Pacific?

With so many teams affected by realignment, the time for bold, outside-the-norm solutions is upon us. So we've collected a few of the more extreme realignment scenarios for your viewing pleasure; ones that range from economic to travel to competitive solutions. Enjoy … and keep a flowchart handy.

The Derek Zona Proposal

If you aren't reading Derek Zona, you should be. He's primarily on The Copper & Blue, but also blogs at the SB Nation mothership. That's where his proposal that apes the NFL and MLB models was published this week.

It's an economically based model. According to the data Zona published, the Eastern Conference made $507.4 million in revenue while the Western Conference made $198.7 million over the last five seasons — and the East tally includes the Southeast Division's $118.4 million loss.

What Zona seeks to do is adopt a model that would eliminate much of that economic disparity. Hence, he'd realign like this:

From Zona:

Each division still maintains geographical proximity to ease travel costs.  There's still divisional imbalance in income, but with so few teams making up such a large percentage of league income, divisional imbalance is difficult to overcome.  Travel distances and conference incomes are balanced, however.

The Central Division in Conference No. 2 is the weakest of the divisions currently, but Dallas is a sizable market and St. Louis is a traditionally strong market.  Pittsburgh has a new arena and should generate significant income in the coming years.

As with all suggested change, traditionalists will decry the suggestions above. Splitting a few existing rivalries will likely be the primary criticism, but it's worth remembering that the NHL has previously undergone four significant realignments since 1967 and rivalries depend on on-ice play, specifically playoff matchups, much more than they depend on geography. Just ask the Blackhawks and Canucks.

It's a hell of a concept, essentially creating an NFC and AFC (or National and American Leagues if you're a seam-head) of hockey. But the Minnesota Wild, we imagine, wouldn't be wild about maintaining that division setup.

Are we ready for an NFL-like NHL? For the Rangers and Flyers playing for the Stanley Cup?

The Clark Rasmussen Redux

Rasmussen, a blogger on DetroitHockey.net, wants to blow up the current format … and when the pieces fall back to earth, he sees five divisions and two conferences.

The divisions:

West: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver
Central: Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Phoenix, Winnipeg
Northeast: Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto
Atlantic: Boston, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
Southeast: Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Washington

The hell? The hell.

From DetroitHockey.net:

How do you align five divisions into a playoff?  You don't.

When it comes time for the playoffs, the conferences kick in.  Each team belongs to a division and a conference, the divisions don't belong to conferences.  This means that while Detroit and Toronto might share a division in the regular season, they could still meet in the Stanley Cup Finals.

For the sake of argument, lets move Winnipeg into the Western Conference and Columbus into the Eastern Conference. Playoff brackets then happen the same as the current setup except for divisional winners not automatically getting the highest seeds.  I'd be fine going single-table in the playoffs but North American sports has long had the idea of conference-based playoffs.

So five divisions, but each team belongs to its own conference, but their division titles won't factor into their conference standings, as different conference teams are in their divisions, of which there's five.

Read the full plan here. And please, let us know when Ellen Page shows up to help build the dream within a dream within a dream, and what the kick is going to be.

The Bobby Matthews Maneuver

Bobby Matthews is a Puck Daddy reader and a self-proclaimed "old school NHL FAN." He sent this realignment plan over Thursday:

From Matthews:

First, let's go back to the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell Conference's. Here is the proposed Layoff of how I would like to see the realignment play out. This format, allows for each team to stay within a geographical location. It also, takes into consideration the time zone issue. In regards to travel issue, the only team that would not be in there correct time zone would be the Nashville Predators. However, this purposed change allows for better rivals and more conference games to be played with in each division.

You can get away with 15 and 15 if you're not relying on divisional playoffs in the first round, but what's the sense of dropping back to four divisions and not going back a quarterfinal between blood rivals (or teams that become blood rivals through playoff battles)?

But hey, for what it's worth: You had us at Norris Division …

The Adam Proteau Type

Proteau, a columnist for The Hockey News, has a rather simple but ultimately revolutionary idea for realignment: No. More. Divisions.

From Proteau:

In an 82-game schedule, the league could continue traditional divisional team play at the present rate, have each team play a home-and-home series against all 15 teams in the opposite conference, and still have 28 games to address rivalries that pop up organically from time to time.

With that kind of arrangement, there would be far fewer qualms about a Jets/Wings flip-flop. Sure, you'd still have Nashville and Columbus clamoring to move East, but perhaps those extra 28 games could be allotted in a way that would give each franchise more games against the East.

It'd be a handy way to solve the headaches over a Dallas team in the Pacific (when they're closer to the Gulf of Mexico). And as Proteau points out, it would also decrease the hassles in further realignment down the line.

The entire focus is on the conference playoffs anyway, right? If nothing else, it will end the squirmy practice of teams who crap out in the first round hoisting division champ banners at their home openers. Yuck.

What's your favorite extreme realignment plan?

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