After tackling the issues that separated the NHL and NHLPA during the most recent lockout, leaders from both sides now must figure out a way to realign the league that will satisfy as many teams as possible, while also making sure the players benefit.
According to Pierre LeBrun on TSN's Insider Trading, discussions were held between the NHL and the players' union regarding realignment for the 2013-14 season on Tuesday. LeBrun also provided a possible date for a vote.
The P.A. and the league met in Toronto to advance that discussion. The P.A. has to sign off on it as we know from December 2011. They could have a vote (the owners) in two weeks for a new realignment, four conferences, although some of the teams have switched around from that format they agreed on in December 2011.
If all goes well, NHL owners should vote on new realignment plan week of Feb. 25th— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 13, 2013
Here's another realignment update from Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports:
Daly says NHL wants to have realignment settled in about two weeks.— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) February 13, 2013
Realignment is a topic that sparks a lot of debate among fans and members of the media. There are so many different ways to divide the league's teams with the goal of pleasing as many clubs as possible. Geography, rivalries and travel are the three most important issues involving realignment.
Let's look at some possible conference formats that the league could consider for its new realignment plan.
Feel free to share your own thoughts about realignment in the comments section below.
The following chart is the four-conference setup that the owners came up with in 2011 before the NHLPA shot it down.
|Conference A||Conference B||Conference C||Conference D|
|Vancouver Canucks||St. Louis Blues||Boston Bruins||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|San Jose Sharks||Winnipeg Jets||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Islanders|
|Phoenix Coyotes||Chicago Blackhawks||Montreal Canadiens||New York Rangers|
|Anaheim Ducks||Nashville Predators||Ottawa Senators||New Jersey Devils|
|Edmonton Oilers||Detroit Red Wings||Buffalo Sabres||Washington Capitals|
|Colorado Avalanche||Dallas Stars||Tampa Bay Lightning||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Calgary Flames||Minnesota Wild||Florida Panthers||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Los Angeles Kings||Columbus Blue Jackets||OPEN SPOT||OPEN SPOT
LeBrun mentioned that two of these teams were moved around, but we don't know which ones. It should be pointed out that the ownership issues the Phoenix Coyotes are having could force the league to relocate the franchise in the near future.
Since Quebec City is a possible relocation destination for the Coyotes, it wouldn't be surprising to see them move into the open slot in Conference C.
Having four conferences instead of two, which would bring back divisional playoffs, is an exciting idea for the league.
The playoffs build rivalries in the NHL, and having an inter-conference playoff series format that is similar to the one that was used with the old Adams, Smythe, Patrick and Norris divisions would help extend current rivalries and also create new ones.
In the four-conference format, the top four teams in each group would make the playoffs and a No. 1 versus No. 4, No. 2 versus No. 3 seeding system would be used for the first round. Two Eastern teams or two Western teams playing in the Stanley Cup Final is also possible under this format, which opens the door for more Original Six matchups in the Cup Final.
Here are three more four-conference setups that would work for the league.
Idea No. 1
- Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Washington
- Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
- Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
- Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Idea No. 2
- NY Rangers, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Detroit
- Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago
- Washington, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas
- Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Colorado, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton
Idea No. 3 with Expansion
If the league expands to Quebec and Seattle, arguably the two likeliest cities for NHL expansion, the total number of teams increases to 32. In this scenario, there would be four conferences with eight teams each:
- Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix, Anaheim, LA and San Jose
- Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis, Winnipeg Nashville, Minnesota, Chicago, Columbus
- Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, NYI
- Quebec, Montreal, Boston, Ottawa, NYR, Toronto, New Jersey, Philadelphia
Since the majority of the league's owners voted in favor of four conferences in 2011, there is already a good amount of support for this kind of setup, so expect this to be the format used for the next realignment plan.
As long as the players' concerns are addressed, and the union is satisfied with how issues such as travel are resolved, they should be able to work out a fair realignment plan with the owners that includes four conferences.
If the league does not want to make a drastic move to four conferences or they cannot agree to a new plan with the union before the deadline for next season, moving a few teams around to address travel concerns and time zone issues would be a smart temporary fix to some of the problems that clubs are currently dealing with.
Here's what I would do if two conferences was the plan for 2013-14:
- Winnipeg Jets move from Southeast to Northwest
- Nashville Predators move from Central to Southeast
- Minnesota Wild move from Northwest to Central
- Columbus and Detroit remain in Western Conference to maintain 15-team-per-conference setup
These moves make the most sense and would give both conferences three divisions with five teams each.
How many conferences should the NHL use?
This has been a successful format for the league since the 1993-94 season, evidenced by the fact that the amount of hockey-related revenue earned by the league climbed to a record $3.3 billion for the 2011-12 season.
There's only a handful of teams that don't benefit from the two-conference setup in place. With that said, if the NHL and NHLPA cannot agree on a new realignment plan for next season, keeping the current setup intact wouldn't be a huge problem.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.