Despite a new collective bargaining agreement being reached, the NHL has still not announced a solution to the realignment problems it must fix for the 2013-14 season.
One such plan was proposed about a year ago, but was shot down by the Board of Governors. This plan made more sense than the current alignment, but it was not perfect by any means.
Let's take a look at the problems with the plan that was shot down, as well as the other issues that need to be addressed for the soon-to-come realignment.
This is the most obvious issue that needs to be addressed.
The city of Winnipeg was thrilled to have its NHL team back after a painstaking fifteen-year-long wait. To play for the team in its first season, however, came at a hefty price. The central Canadian team had to do an immense amount of traveling, as every division opponent was in the southeastern United States, and every conference opponent was near the East Coast.
The issue will be the same this season, as all 48 games on the Winnipeg Jets' schedule will be played against Eastern Conference foes.
Winnipeg needs to be moved to the Western Conference or a conference of their own, like the one proposed in the original realignment plan. It will not only work out better for the Jets, but for every other Eastern Conference team that needs to take the long trip up to Manitoba.
Boston needs to be with Montreal, who needs to be with Toronto, who needs to be with Ottawa, and so on and so on.
Realignment would be easy if there were not so many significant rivalries that need to be kept intact. Just give a map to anyone who doesn't know anything about hockey and tell them to separate the thirty teams into six groups of five based on geography.
Oh, but make sure you keep Chicago with Detroit. Philadelphia has to be with Pittsburgh, too. And even though Toronto was fine being in a complete opposite conference than Montreal and Ottawa for many years, don't even think about separating them now.
See how confusing this can get?
What do the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals have in common? The cities that they play in are closer to Dallas than San Jose is.
Don't believe me? Look it up.
Dallas has almost as big of a case for realignment as Winnipeg, although not too many people seem to notice.
The Dallas Stars currently play in the Pacific Division with San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Phoenix isn't extremely far from Dallas, but the other three teams are much further away than most would expect.
The fact that the Stars are in the Pacific instead of the Colorado Avalanche is just ridiculous. The new realignment has to put them with either Southeastern or Midwestern teams.
Under the proposed four-conference plan, two conferences had seven teams and two conferences had eight teams. Regardless, four teams from each conference would qualify for the playoffs.
The main downfall of the rejected plan was that the chance of making the playoffs for teams in the seven-team divisions was automatically higher than the chance for teams in the eight-team divisions.
There is only one way that the four-conference system would give every team an equal chance of making the playoffs at the season's start, which leads us to...
For the four-conference plan to work, the league would need four conferences of eight teams, which would add up to 32 teams. Since the league only has 30 teams, it would need to add two to make this feasible.
Seattle and Quebec City have been the two NHL-less cities garnering the most attention lately. If teams were added from both cities, the setup may look something like this:
Division A: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Seattle, Vancouver
Division B: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Division C: Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto, Washington
Division D: Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
I, personally, would not be a fan of this idea; however, another way that the NHL could create an equal four-conference scenario would be to eliminate two teams. This would create four conferences of seven teams.
If this were to happen, it would likely happen to two southern-market teams that do not draw large crowds and revenue, like Phoenix and Florida.
Without the Phoenix Coyotes or Florida Panthers, the setup may look like this:
Division A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver
Division B: Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Division C: Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Washington
Division D: Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
With Winnipeg going West, someone has to go East. Unfortunately, there are two teams in the Western Conference that are in the Eastern Time Zone and have to make several long West Coast trips each year.
If the league sticks to its current two-conference, six-division format, one of these teams will be happy to go East while the other will be left with the grueling West Coast trips.
Each of these teams has just as good of an argument as the other as to why it should be put in the Eastern Conference. Here they are:
- Smaller fan base would benefit and grow more from not having to stay up to watch 10:30 p.m. games often
- Further south than Detroit, so a swap to fill the gap in the Southeast Division would make more sense
- Detroit already has big rivalries with Chicago and Nashville that would be lost
- Detroit draws more revenue in Western stadiums with smaller fan bases (Phoenix, Dallas, Anaheim)
- Has had to deal with West Coast trips since before Columbus was ever thought of
- Has established rivalries with Toronto, Boston, Montreal, and the Rangers that fans would love to see more of
- Was given priority for an Eastern Conference move according to Mike Ilitch
However, if a four-conference plan is installed, both teams will likely end up happy, as neither will be placed in a West Coast conference.
For all intents and purposes, I put Columbus in a further East division and Detroit in a Midwest division in the past two slides due to the rivalries that Detroit holds with Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville.