Gary Bettman: New NHL divisions will have ‘sensible geographic designations’ for names

The NHL formally announced on Thursday its realignment plan beginning with the 2013-14 season: Two conferences and four divisions.

The conferences will remain the Eastern and Western conferences; but the League declined to name its new divisions upon announcing the new alignment.

This, naturally, led to some delightful speculation from fans. The Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr and Howe Divisions! A return of the Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe Divisions! Heck, just sell them to the highest bidder so we can the Molson, Labatt’s, Budweiser and Heineken Divisions!

(The Habs better play in the Molson.)

Alas, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on a Thursday conference call that the divisions will be named geographically.

“We haven’t settled in yet on names. We’re looking at what we think will be the most sensible geographic designations. The most fan friendly. The easiest to remember,” he said.

“When you’re making this kind of change, people need to adjust in their thinking of where things are. We’re hoping to use the names that make it easiest to conjure up where teams are.”

Which should make naming a division with two Floridian teams, three Canadian teams, Boston, Buffalo and Detroit quite interesting.

Some other notes from Bettman’s media Q&A ...

• About those Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in the new “Northeast” division, Bettman said: “It was collaborative. There are things about this plan that teams like, and that each team doesn’t like. But on balance, when you look at the rivalries and geographic grouping, and you take into account the unique geography of Florida, this, compared to the alternatives, seemed to make the most sense.”

He also said that while the Florida teams face travel challenges and competitive issues in that division, “From a business standpoint, I think this is really good for the Florida teams.” As in, many snowbirds flying down to watch games during the winter.

• That said, the vote on realignment wasn’t unanimous.

“It was more than enough to pass it. It wasn’t unanimous but it was well in excess of the three-quarters needed to pass it,” said Bettman.

(Interesting that a team that was screwed over in realignment, the Nashville Predators, was apparently a “yes” vote.)

• Bettman defended the divisions’ imbalance – 16 teams in the East, 14 in the West –by claiming that the wild card playoff format will help increase the fairness for teams in the East. He also said that there have been plenty of times in the current format when one division sends more teams to the playoffs than another.

“We introduced the wild card to balance that off a little bit better. In that regard, I think it addresses what might be a concern,” he said.

• One concern I had about realignment: Television.

The Detroit Red Wings were always a team that NBC Sports Network and VERSUS would use to host Western Conference teams and get them into Eastern Time Zone prime time. (Like next week, when the Minnesota Wild visit Detroit on NBC “Rivalry Night.”)

With the Red Wings in the East, was there any concern that the TV balance between East and West will tilt even farther to the East? That the Western Conference teams will be absent from NBCSN?

“Unlike in this season and prior seasons, every team is in every building at least once,” said Bettman. “We’ll have as many if not more options to get quality matchups in conference and in an inter-conference basis.

"You get more of something you didn’t have, and more of something you did.”