NHL Misses Mark with Division Names and Outdoor Games

Daniel WilliamsContributor IIIJuly 22, 2013

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30: Commissioner Gary Bettman works the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL dropped the ball again last week when it announced the new division names following the league’s realignment for the 2014 season.

The new configuration will feature three familiar names from the previous format; Pacific, Central and Atlantic. The fourth will be the Metropolitan Division, which is basically composed of teams from the old Atlantic Division. The Western Conference will contain the Pacific and Central while the East has the Atlantic and Metropolitan.

Pacific Division: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.

Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

Atlantic Division: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Metropolitan Division: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Some fans have taken to Twitter in response to the league’s newest division label.

Not everybody openly dislikes the change, but Sidney Crosby was a little disappointed in his interview with Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy.

“I liked the Atlantic,” Crosby tells Wyshynski. “I’m from Atlantic Canada. But I can get used to [Metropolitan].”

The image to the right is a visual representation of what the new Metropolitan teams may have to look forward to. It’s pretty weird, right?

We have seen the league make mistakes before. The glow puck, the trapezoid at each end and watching a franchise fail in Atlanta—twice—are some examples. While it may not bother some fans the way “Leaders” and “Legends” appall Big Ten faithful, it still lacks originality. Is this just another silly mistake we’ll be laughing about down the road?

The bigger issue is the National Hockey League blowing another opportunity to embrace the “old-time hockey” feeling they so publicly covet.

I've spoken with fans who would love to see the return of “classic” names. The old Patrick, Norris, Smythe and Adams Divisions represented the great history of the game. The Campbell and Prince of Wales Conference names also added a unique touch of class that once separated the NHL from every other professional league.

They had the perfect opportunity to embrace a new era of hockey legends and recreate that “old-time hockey” environment in a modern game. Names like Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky are some that come to mind.

The league chose to do things differently and Wyshynski summed it up best:

"Bettman’s been steadfastly against that idea since he helped change the division names about 20 years ago, and there wasn’t really an appetite for it among the teams."

One thing the NHL did right was instituting the outdoor games. This season the Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth NHL Winter Classic from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day. The Vancouver Canucks will host the Ottawa Senators in the third NHL Heritage Classic from BC Place on March 2. The Heritage Classic customarily showcases only Canadian teams.

The outdoor traditions are fantastic. It takes the modern game at the highest level and personifies the sport’s humble pond hockey tradition. Then they saw dollar signs and smiled ear-to-ear (right).

The 2014 NHL season will introduce the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. This is a “new” concept comprised of four—that’s right, four—more outdoor games.

The first will feature the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings from Dodger Stadium on January 25, 2014. I don’t think it’s necessary to elaborate on outdoor ice hockey in California.

The next two will be played in Yankee Stadium in January, making for four outdoor games in the month. As explained in the video, these will take place on January 26 featuring the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. The second—just three days later on January 29—will feature the New York Islanders and Rangers, again.

The final game in the Stadium Series will be the Pittsburgh Penguins facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 1 from Soldier Field—a matchup that I applaud.

But, again, we see the same concept throughout the league’s most recent, troubled history. Taking a quality product and finding ways to minimize its potential. Some will celebrate this concept as a money-making machine. Others see this as the watering down of one of the greatest traditions in recent memory.

The casual fan will tune into the Winter and Heritage Classics because of the spectacle and incomparable atmosphere emanated with such a peerless ritual. The league stripped these games of their significance by duplicating them, especially in southern California.

Between television contracts, multiple labor disputes, and players retiring at 30 to play in Europe, the NHL will continue to be secondary among the other major sports.