Does the NHL Really Need Divisions Any More?

Mike MacDonaldCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2010

LAS VEGAS - JUNE 18:  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during the 2009 NHL Awards at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort June 18, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for NHL)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The NHL has changed so much in the recent years.

A majority of the rules have been changed, some teams have changed logos, as well as jersey styles, and don't forget the equipment changes, too. The “composite stick,” the “trapezoid” and “lower or upper body injuries” have become the new common phrases.

Why not change the NHL Divisional alignment? Actually why not do away with divisions completely.


Since the NHL changed it's playoff format a number of years ago, the need for divisions seems rather unnecessary. Anytime we consult the NHL standings, we basically view them in terms of current potential playoff position by conference and rarely refer to their divisional standings.

We do refer to the impact of a divisional game, the continuing rivalries, as we say. Has the need for divisional standings simply gone the way of the wooden hockey stick? Maybe it has.

One rivalry that was created out of pure hate, or should I say pure nastiness, was the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings. Anybody remember Claude Lemieux? Anyone?

Those types of rivalries came out of old fashion playoff hockey drama and down right ugliness. There are many other examples of these “heated” rivalries that are different than those Original Six clashes.

I personally liked the Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild conflicts. Most of these were created due to great playoff matchups that carried over to the regular season. Washington and Pittsburgh have always had the “hate” for each other and I'm sure we all have our favourite matchups.

Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche recently was quoted in a article as saying he felt the rivalry between his Avs and the Detroit Red Wings is not the same it once was,

Hejduk said:

"The rivalry? It's in the past -- a different game, a different era. It's still hard games against these guys. I think now we have more of a rivalry with Vancouver and Calgary, the teams that we play the most, division teams."

What? The rivalry is dead! It's replaced by divisional rivalries...uhm.

To some extent, we all know why divisions were created because of geographical and scheduling reasons. Has the NHL kept those older traditional rivalries alive, or have new ones been created by current scheduling practises. Either way we are looking at non divisional teams having big games in February. Potential playoff effecting games.

Are these games now becoming rivalries? Most likely not, but they are critical nevertheless.

Earlier this season, the Montreal Canadiens had back to back, home and home games with the Philadelphia Flyers just before the Vancouver Winter Olympic games. Flyers won both and continued their pursuit up the Eastern Conference standings. Montreal lost four points to a conference team that has caught them and now has surpassed them in the standings.

Montreal's inability to take advantage of these two games could very well cost them a chance to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Arguably, the two wins could solidify the Flyers chances to land a playoff spot, come April 11th. Not to mention that most eastern conference teams will have games in hand on the Canadiens as a result of the over all schedule.

At that time, the Habs were one a point behind Boston in the Northeast standings for third place which I could argue means nothing.

As the standings were prior to the Olympic break, the Northeast had four of the eight playoff positions, while the Southeast had four teams currently out of the playoffs. Nothing worse than weak clubs in weak divisions. One of these teams will duke it out to at least claim the third seed in each conference come Apr. 11.

This all changed when the divisions were re-aligned and each conference began using only three divisions. Awarding the divisional champion, at least third overall in the playoff seedings seems like a great reward. Or does it?

I'll let you decide that one.

My beef is the schedule and standings in general. I never look at the divisional records because it's not what I feel is important.

I would argue that just about all NHL fans view the conference standings anytime from mid December through out the balance of the regular season. Every sports telecast refers to this and TV channels like Versus and TSN in Canada always refer to the conference standings at any given time during their broadcast.

I mean that's the important part right? What position is my team in today. Are we eighth...hey wait we were fifth yesterday and now we're 11th! How does that happen? in the conference standings of the NHL.

Now, add divisional scheduling on top of that. Or what I would call your bulk of the games during the season. If memory serves me correct, each club plays a divisional opponent six times during the NHL season. The rest of the schedule is built on the remaining NHL teams and things like arena availability, get the picture.

However, each year one division doesn't play another division at all. I know it's a tough job making the NHL schedule...I can only image the constant revisions.

This season alone we have seen many teams play for the first time in some years. It's been great. Also, this being an Olympic year the circumstances are clearly different. Ask the Vancouver Canucks.

There was a time when divisions used to mean everything.

These teams who fought game in and game out knew they needed to beat their divisional opponents to move into the top four positions at seasons end to move on to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Great rivals would be built from this and great hockey—legendary hockey—would be it's result.

Why would you want to change that? Milan Hejduk feels that the divisional games are more intense...if I can paraphrase. We know of some reasons why the change was made...

The Toronto Maple Leafs were a horrible franchise for most of the late '70s and through the '80s. These Toronto clubs would make the play-offs with brutal regular season records for finishing fourth in their division, while other teams with far better records would miss out because they finished fifth in their own division.

It seemed that most teams would win their division year after year. They would love to “raise a banner” for their accomplishments. Rightfully so, some of these divisions were pure dog fights, while other divisions were pure dog...well I think you get the picture.

The NHL renamed there divisions, re-organized them to three divisions per conference and moved a few teams to form the current set up. I personally don't have an issue with this except for dropping those names from those respected divisions. I have got over this with time. My real beef is why continue to have divisions and award one of the top three seeds to the Stanley Cup Playoffs based on their divisional play.

It's my opinion that the NHL should drop their divisions and go with a two conference set-up. Update the schedule to reflect all teams playing each other—at least once. This currently is not the case. Then the balance of the schedule is made from throughout the conference.

Those old and new rivalries will continue. The truly top three teams in each conference will be reflected in there standings and good teams will be rightfully rewarded for there efforts.

As the system currently stands, it seems not that much different than the days the Maple Leafs would make the playoffs with a brutal record. All you have to do is win your division and your in, at least one of the three top seeds.

If your division is weak or on par, you got a great shot while other teams have to fight to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Southeast division is probably the one division that has benefited from this set-up since it's inception, I'm sure there might be others as well that have also benefited.

I'm not looking to slam any teams for winning their division amongst weaker teams. We really can't control that under the current set-up, but if the conference schedule was balanced to some degree it could be a more accurate standing at season's end.

Doing away with this current set-up and moving to a more straight forward set-up might allow the best matchups when the quest for Lord Stanley is resumed in mid April.

Now your standing will reflect the strongest teams by standings from first through to eight in each conference.

As we gear up for the final weeks of the regular season, keep this in mind. Maybe we should have a more balanced schedule and do away with divisions all together. This is something the NHL should at least consider.

With all the changes made over the recent years, taking another look at this might be beneficial.


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