December 02, 2011
The NHL realignment debate has been raging since the Winnipeg Jets were kept in the Southeast Division following their departure from Atlanta.
The Detroit Red Wings claim they've been promised a move to the Eastern Conference, or at the very least a new conference alignment that would lessen travel to Western Canada. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators have their own claims and realignment to the East. Teams like the Dallas Stars, meanwhile, want their own in-conference realignment.
When the NHL Board of Governors meet in Pebble Beach next week, the league will present two plans that "reflect the greatest level of club interest," according to John Shannon of Sportsnet.
What will the B.O.G. approve? What will the NHL look like in 2012-13?
The simple one is just a swap of Detroit for Winnipeg. That fulfills the promise of Gary Bettman to Mike Illitch to put the Red Wings in the East.
The second proposal is very close to the one we have been discussing for a few months that would see the removal of the two conferences (and six divisions), for four divisions and would include a more balanced schedule. It would appease the Wings demand that, if in fact they can't be in the East, that every team in the league would play a minimum of a home-and-home series. That proposal would also call for two rounds of divisional playoffs, that would help maintain the regional rivalries, if they don't play as many games against each other in the regular season.
Here's that proposal as it was presented in October:
Ed Snider, chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers, said last month that he expects the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins to remain in the same division and that there will be "total realignment" of the league.
On Bettman's Sirius/XM Radio Show Thursday evening, he said he hadn't "figured out what we'll do" if one of thee plans aren't adopted at the meeting next week. This speaks both to the difficulty in trying to realign the NHL, and the inherent politics at play when you're dealing with teams getting help vs. teams getting the shaft.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly recently said the league doesn't favor a particular plan, but Bettman presented the four-division format during the 2011 NHL draft. Every sense I've gotten is that the league would like to see that radical format passed — but it needs two-thirds of the governors to make it happen.
My guess: You won't find two-thirds of the NHL that want radical realignment. Wings for Jets, and then it's time for golf.