With the official relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers north of the border to Winnipeg, the NHL finds itself in a serious geographical predicament. The Winnipeg Jets will remain in the Southeast division for this season, but that is not something that can continue long-term. With travel times/expenses/exhaustion all unsolved issues, the league must find a solution for teams like the Jets. As a result, realignment has been proposed—not just for the divisions, but for the entire league.
Right now what’s flying around the rumor mill is a plan for four divisions—two with eight teams, and two with seven—which would split up in a way that would alleviate the pressures of travel while still maintaining divisional rivalries and (hopefully) the split of the western and eastern conferences.
The top four teams from each division will make the playoffs, and round one will be a divisional round with teams re-seeding into their conferences for the following playoff rounds.
There are already multiple scenarios for how the divisions should be split, and I don’t believe there is one true answer. Consider Dallas’ geographical positioning—it makes it almost impossible for it to fit nicely into one division as opposed to another because of its distance from other NHL cities.
I’ve decided to try to split up the teams into four divisions in a way that seems best to keep rivalries intact as well as allow the teams some easier travel routes.
1. Pacific Division—8 teams:
San Jose Sharks
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. It consists of every team in the western half of North America, and includes eight of the 10 teams in the current Northwest and Pacific divisions. It seems fitting that these teams should be grouped together and both Dallas and Minnesota should be excluded (considering they are in the middle of the country and not nearly as west as the others). This grouping keeps the California teams as well as the three western-Canada teams together asdivisional rivals.
2. North Division—7 teams:
Toronto Maple Leafs
With the serious cluster of teams in the northeast area of America/Canada this division could be split up in a few ways. First of all, it is completely impossible to put Toronto and Montreal in different divisions, and Buffalo and Ottawa must be included for obvious geographical reasons. Winnipeg and Minnesota are too far east to be considered for the Pacific division, but too far west and north for any other division. The real question is the Detroit/Chicago divide. I like taking Chicago in this group to provide some star power, but I excluded Detroit in order to split the Original Six teams into two divisions. Plus I think the recent Detroit-Pittsburgh rivalry is very exciting. Which brings us to the next division…
3. Atlantic Division—8 teams:
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
New Jersey Devils
Detroit Red Wings
This is one heck of a division. Just the history and recent successes of this division make realignment worthwhile. 12 of the last 20 Stanley Cups have been won by teams in this division, and seven of the losing teams over that span are also featured in this group. There is a ton of star talent, plus plenty of new and old rivalries that could make this the greatest division the NHL has ever known.
4. South Division—7 teams:
Columbus Blue Jackets
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Unfortunately, these teams will still be fairly spread out even with the new divisional groupings. However, the popularity of the NHL in already established northeastern cities is the only thing to blame for this widespread group. The South division could be very exciting to watch with the mix of established clubs like Dallas and St. Louis, with young and successful ones like Carolina and Tampa Bay. These teams know each other well and could make for some great hockey.
There you have it. With the league proposing that each team will play in every arena throughout the year, plus the added excitement of intense divisional rivalries, realignment could be just what the doctor ordered.
If you would split things up differently or would like to see other rivalries happen let me know!