Realigning the NHL into 4 Divisions and Reintroducing the Divisional Playoff

MattContributor IJune 3, 2011

Okay, I would gather that you know the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold and are moving to Winnipeg to become the Winnipeg Whatchyamuhcallits or the Manitoba Somethingorothers.  

You also should know that they will play in the Southeast division for the 2011-2012 season. However, after than season, provided no other team relocates, folds or drops out of thin air, the move to the west for the former Atlanta franchise is all but certain, starting with the 2012-2013 season.

So since there's some time to ponder where the Winnipeg/Manitoba (Winnitoba) franchise will wind up and how badly it will shake up the divisions and conferences, I decided to try something. Are you ready?

Okay, so the big issue with the realignment possibilities is there are two eastern timezone teams playing in the Western Conference (Detroit and Columbus), and both want to move to the Eastern Conference, but for some reason people seem to think that only one team can move to the Eastern Conference. Others have suggested that the NHL should just move Nashville to the Southeast and put Winnitoba in Nashville's spot in the Central. Yeah, that could work and looks like the easiest change. Except, now you have a Western team from the Central timezone and Detroit and Columbus are still unhappy about not being moved. Is there a solution? Yes.  

My solution is a bit out there in left field, but if you think about it, it makes sense, and the best part of all the travel is for the most part evenly split. The best news of all (if you're a Red Wings or Blue Jackets fan), both Detroit and Columbus would be moved to the Eastern Conference. 

So how does this work? It's really quite simple and it's not too far from the old Adams, Norris division days.

The proposal: In the Western Conference there would be two divisions of seven teams. In the Eastern Conference there would be two divisions of eight teams.

What about the division champions? The playoffs? 

The top team in each division would win that division. 


The top four teams in each division would square off in a No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 format, with the division champions of each conference facing each other and the winners of those games (conference champions) playing each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.


No worries. I'll help break it down. Before I show you an example of the possible divisional playoffs, take a look at the new divisions and the teams if this were to actually occur.


Western Conference


Vancouver Canucks

San Jose Sharks

Los Angeles Kings

Anaheim Ducks

Phoenix Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers


Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues



Eastern Conference

Great Lakes

Detroit Red Wings

Pittsburgh Penguins

Columbus Blue Jackets

Buffalo Sabres

Toronto Maple Leafs

Boston Bruins

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Atlantic Coast

Carolina Hurricanes

Florida Panthers

Philadelphia Flyers

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

New Jersey Devils

Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals

This splits travel pretty evenly within the conferences. Detroit and Columbus both get to move to the Eastern Conference. Nashville can become a major contender in the Central. The Central to some may seem weak because Detroit is gone, but it really is not all that bad and it keeps and reignites some great rivalries. Dallas moves into the Central, making it easier on their travel needs.

In the new Great Lakes division, Detroit, Pittsburgh and more reestablish great rivalries. Yes, I'm aware that this puts five of the six originals in the same conference, but I don't think that's such a bad thing.

The Pacific gets Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Finally, the Canucks don't have to travel two timezones to the Central to play Minnesota six times a year. This set-up keeps the Oilers/Flames/Canucks rivalries in tact.

The Bruins enter the Great Lakes Division as kind of the odd man out.  The Atlantic Coast Division keeps Philadelphia/New Jersey and New York (Rangers) and their rivalries in tact. I split up Philadelphia and Pittsburgh because, frankly, Pittsburgh is as much in the Atlantic as Dallas is in the Pacific. Besides, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia seem to more often than not meet in the playoffs at some point.

Speaking of playoffs, I said this new format, if you remember, would be best in bringing back the divisional playoffs. The same number of teams overall still qualify, this format just puts more pressure on doing well in your division.  

I did a mock seeding and matchup with the format using the standings from the 2010-2011 season. I also included Winnipeg/Manitoba as if this was the current alignment.  

Here are the resulted standings:


1. Vancouver

2. San Jose

3. Anaheim

4. Phoenix


1. Nashville

2. Chicago

3. Dallas

4. St. Louis

Great Lakes

1. Pittsburgh

2. Detroit

3. Boston

4. Montreal

Atlantic Coast

1. Washington

2. Philadelphia

3. Tampa Bay

4. New York Rangers

Divisional games would be No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in each division, with the winners facing each other for division championships. 

The Pacific Division winner would play the Central Division winner (Western Conference Final), while the Great Lakes Division winner would play the winner of the Atlantic Coast (Eastern Conference Final). And the two conference winners would face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Here are the breakdowns of the first-round matchups:



Great Lakes

No. 4 Canadiens @ No. 1 Penguins. (MTL in seven)

No. 3 Bruins @ No. 2 Red Wings. (DET in six)

Atlantic Coast

No. 4 Rangers @ No. 1 Capitals (WSH in six)

No. 3 Lightning @ No. 2 Flyers (TB in seven)




No. 4 Coyotes @ No. 1 Canucks ( VAN in six)

No. 3 Ducks @ No. 2 Sharks (SJ in seven)


No. 4 Blues @ No. 1 Predators (NSH in seven)

No. 3 Stars @ No. 2 Blackhawks (CHI in six)


ROUND 2: Division Championships

Eastern Conference

Great Lakes Championship

No. 4 Canadiens @ No. 2 Red Wings (DET in six)

Atlantic Coast Championship

No. 3 Lightning @ No. 1 Capitals (TB in five) 

Western Conference 

Pacific Championship

No. 2 Sharks @ No. 1 Canucks (VAN in six)

Central Championship

No. 2 Blackhawks @ No. 1 Predators (NSH in seven)


Conference Finals


Tampa Bay @ Detroit (TB in six)


Nashville @ Vancouver (VAN in six)


 Stanley Cup Finals

Vancouver vs. Tampa Bay

VAN in seven.

The divisional format looks like a great winner in this set-up. While the league is unbalanced with 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 teams in the East Conference, it may not the quickest solution. In the long run, it might make the most sense if the NHL wants to cut cost on travel.

What do you think?  


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