Let me preface this by saying that the NHL is great the way it is. It has the most entertaining postseason of any sport every year, and it has opened up the game so its young stars can take advantage of their tremendous skills.
However, like any good company, the NHL needs to stay ahead of the curve and should constantly be innovating.
Here are a few changes that I believe would greatly enhance the NHL’s standing in the sports landscape of the United States.
Cut the Fat
There are too many teams in the NHL.
The league is a little watered down so let’s get rid of Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Florida, the New York Islanders, Anaheim, and Columbus.
Then hold an expansion draft using the same draft order as the amateur draft with this simple rule: if you take a player in the first round of the expansion draft, then you lose your first round pick in the amateur draft.
Just for fun, let’s do a mock draft of the top five.
Edmonton: Steven Stamkos
Toronto: Ryan Getzlaf
Carolina: Rick Nash
Minnesota: John Tavares
New York Rangers: Martin St. Louis
(Carolina, Minnesota, and the Rangers all move up because the teams we eliminated are all picking in the top 10. Even though Toronto gave away their first round pick in the amateur draft, they get it back for the expansion draft. Their selection this year will remove their first round pick next year).
Go Back To Your Roots
The NHL needs to accept that hockey is a regional sport.
There are very few kids growing up in Orlando who are dreaming of becoming the next Wayne Gretzky.
This is not necessarily a bad thing; hockey is still tremendously popular in the Northeast and Midwest United States.
There is value in this reality, as the largest media markets (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago) in this country are contained within these regions.
Just because people in Nashville cannot appreciate hockey the same way Bostonians do does not mean that there is something wrong with your sport.
It’s time to move some teams north.
Carolina goes back to Hartford
The Whalers never should have left Hartford in the first place.
I went to college about 45 minutes from Hartford and I can tell you that they still have a ton of representation.
You can walk into any sports bar and I guarantee you will find a Ron Francis jersey hanging from the rafters.
Besides, any city that tries to institute cheerleaders does not deserve a hockey team. Keep them on the football field where they belong.
Phoenix goes back to Winnipeg
This move may happen anyway, but let’s stop beating around the bush and move them back.
No one in Phoenix even knows the Coyotes exist.
They completed one of the more remarkable turnarounds in hockey this year but still finished dead last in attendance.
Give this team to someone who will appreciate them.
San Jose moves to Quebec
I apologize to the good people of San Jose but when you have one of the most entertaining and talented teams in the NHL, you should finish better than 14th in attendance.
I cannot help but wonder what would happen to the attendance if the Sharks were as bad as Edmonton or Toronto.
As a fan of the Avalanche, I have never felt right about stealing Quebec’s hockey team.
This gives them an opportunity to become relevant immediately with one of the best teams in the NHL.
Nashville moves to Hamilton
It was a mistake sticking hockey in Tennessee to BEGIN with, so let’s give Canada another team.
Hamilton may not be one of the largest cities in Canada but it is growing (7.6 percent between 1996 and 2006) and would immediately give Toronto a new rival.
Cut Down the Schedule
Owners will not like to hear this as they lose out on additional revenue but this article is all about pleasing the fans.
So, let’s cut out 10 games and go with a simple 24+24+24 formula. Twenty-four games against the opposing conference (one home game and one away game against each team), 24 games against the other eight teams in your conference outside the division (one home game and one away with teams alternating the extra home game on a yearly basis), and 24 games against the remaining three teams in your division (four at home and four away).
Realign the Divisions
With all of the movement in our new 24-team league we will have to restructure the divisions.
We will keep the same structure of the Western and Eastern conferences but let’s go ahead and rename them.
The East will be known as the Orr conference and the West will be called the Gretzky conference. This is a way to honor the two greatest players of all-time while also standing out from the rest of the North American sports landscape.
Remember, it’s all about trying to stay in the news cycle when you are struggling as much as the NHL is.
So, without further adieu, here are the divisions in your brand new Orr Conference:
Mideast Atlantic Northeast
Pittsburgh Montreal Washington
Toronto Quebec Hartford
Ottawa Boston Philadelphia
Buffalo New York New Jersey
And here is the Gretzky Conference:
Pacific Central Northwest
Vancouver Chicago Calgary
Los Angeles Detroit Edmonton
Colorado Hamilton Winnipeg
Dallas St. Louis Minnesota
The playoffs would have to be revamped as well.
It would be a joke to have 16 teams make the playoffs in a 24 team league so let's cut out four playoff spots. Guarantee three playoff spots to the division winners and have three wild card's.
The top two teams in each conference will get a bye and the NHL will continue to re-seed.
Do Not Award a Point for Losing in the Shootout
The five minute overtime almost seems like a formality at this point.
Very rarely do you see teams take chances because the shootout is such a crapshoot; any team has a chance to win.
If you make the shootout an all or nothing situation, you will see more teams taking chances and pinching their defensemen knowing that if they get beat they still have that one point in their back pocket.