As the 2011 NHL Entry Draft reached its last rounds, the conversations with many team executives and League sources turned to what the NHL will look like in 2012.
Winnipeg will not still be in the Southeast Division, of course. The Detroit Red Wings expect to not be in the Western Conference, although the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators may also harbor the same expectations.
So to accommodate all of this — and to not have to disappoint one team while accommodating another — massive realignment has been proposed by the NHL that would reduce the League to four divisions: Two with eight teams, two with seven teams. (Can't wait for the inevitable expansion to balance it out!)
The realignment would be time-zone and geographically-based. So if you have a 14-team Eastern Conference (minus Winnipeg) and you add Detroit … well, that would leave Eastern Time Zone Columbus very well screwed. From the Globe & Mail, a solution:
The Blue Jackets are pushing the proposal for a 16-team conference and a 14-team conference in hopes of moving east. They are in the Eastern time zone and do not like playing many of their road games in different time zones because their games have to be shown at late hours on television.
As we've written before, moving the Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference (or whatever it'll be) is essential for their survival. More games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, fewer games that start at 10:30 p.m. … that's how you build a fan base. Well, that and winning a few damn games now and then.
When I heard about the plan realignment, my only concerns were about the preservation of rivalries and the Stanley Cup Playoff format. To that end, I was intrigued and encouraged that these guys might have finally heard our cries about divisional play in designing the new scheme.
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.
The opening round of the playoffs shouldn't be a place for weird combinations of Floridian teams and Northeast teams, or California teams and Nashville. It should be a round of blood rivalries and geographic turf wars.
The greatest rivalries in the NHL were born from the intensity of the playoffs, and it all traces back to divisional play. Getting away from it has always been a pet peeve and has, in my mind, diminished the chances for newer teams to develop feuds through playoff animosity.
Even if the divisions and conferences are rendered pointless under this new format, a return to divisional play in the first round would be a welcome change. And, no doubt, would save a few shekels on travel for the NHL, too.
UPDATE: Costa Tsiokos of Population Statistic has this proposal for what the divisions could look like:
Interesting notion, moving the Pennsylvania teams to the Southeast. But the thrust of this is getting Detroit and Columbus closer the East; swap out Nashville for those two and make the "East" a 16-team conference. That's likely what they're thinking.