When the NHLPA put the kibosh on realignment for the upcoming season, it was all but inevitable that the conversation would be brought up again. With the collective bargaining agreement talks starting up, it's the perfect time to broach the subject.
Would the NHL and NHLPA simply go back to the format that the NHL came up with in the middle of last season or would they come up with something new?
Since the NHLPA decided not to go along with the new format then, it is not going to go for it now, so a new format will be needed.
Arranging the teams simply from East to West could easily be done, but in my opinion, it's time for the NHL to consider having a Canadian division of the seven teams and dividing the other 23 teams. Doing this would allow the NHL to have four competitive divisions.
With the Canadian division included, I see the NHL looking like this:
Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia
Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington
Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Phoenix, San Jose
As I have said earlier, this allows the NHL to have four very competitive divisions and it's not unlikely that playoff teams will be changing every year.
Specific to the Canadian division, this format solves a lot of problems. There would be more games between Western and Eastern Canadian teams, so you'd be seeing Ottawa vs. Vancouver a lot more often.
With 23 American teams, we get to see a lot of American matchups, so it would be nice to see the number of Canadian matchups go up significantly.
With every team playing every other team outside the division at least twice, every Western Canadian team would be seeing the biggest stars in the game, such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. It's not a huge problem, but having your biggest stars play in all cities is important to getting the word out.
With four teams making the playoffs in each division, you wouldn't be hearing any television network say "Only two Canadian teams made the playoffs" or "There's only one team left." I have heard this non-stop in the playoffs the past two seasons and it needs to change.
Of course, I could always use the "Canadians care more about hockey" argument.
What it all comes down to is that the NHL would benefit strongly from forming a Canadian division. It would grow the game even further in Canada, which might not be needed, but Canada has been neglected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Also, if Bettman wants to see how far the game has grown in America, this would be a great way to find out.
Will there ever be an all-Canadian division in the NHL? Maybe, or maybe not. There are are several reasons to create one. It's just up to the people at the top to see them.