NHL Realignment: Two Conferences, Four Divisions and a Plethora of New Rivalries

Jason WorkmanCorrespondent IJune 28, 2011

NHL Realignment: Two Conferences, Four Divisions and a Plethora of New Rivalries

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    This week, ESPN broke the news of Commissioner Gary Bettman's plan to realign the NHL after the upcoming season. 

    With the relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg, it became necessary for adjustments to be made. But rather than just shuffling the current divisions, it appears Bettman is poised to make a more radical change.

    In the article, it was stated that Bettman plans on moving from six divisions to four, though it appears he will retain the current East/West format for the conferences.

    It was also reported that the four division names would be; East, Midwest, Pacific and South. Assuming the Midwest and Pacific Divisions are in the Western Conference, I have a hard time understanding how the South Division would work, but more on that later.

    This adjustment would shake up the first round of the playoffs as well, as Bettman wants to see divisional matchups for the opening series. 

    Let's take a look at how things might look in 2012-13.

Western Conference: Pacific Division

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    At first glance, the Western Conference's Pacific Division is the only one with an obvious lineup of teams.

    There is a significant geographic divide that separates eight teams from the rest of the league, and grouping them together makes perfect sense.

    Those eight teams are the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks, the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks, the Phoenix Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche.

    This division would highlight some of the league's most exciting young teams with the Canucks, the Sharks, the Kings and the Ducks.

    There is no shortage of star power either with players like Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Taylor Hall, the Sedin Twins and Drew Doughty.

    If the NHL goes to a four division, East/West Conference format, this division is a no-brainer.

Western Conference: Midwest Division

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    With eight teams in the Pacific Division, the Midwest Division will need seven.

    Continuing to move from the West to East, the next teams in line are Dallas, Winnipeg, Minnesota, St. Louis and Chicago.

    Once we reach Chicago though, things get interesting.

    It would seem to make the most sense to add Columbus and Nashville to this group, but the idea of a South Division in the East is really throwing a wrench into the works.

    If Bettman is sold on the idea of separating the Southern teams, it could be possible that Nashville would be in the East's South Division while Detroit still finds itself stuck in the West (NOTE: Detroit is farther East than Nashville).

    For now, we'll assume that the leaked labels were arbitrary and make groupings that are geographically logical.

    I see the Western Conference's Midwest Division housing the Dallas Stars, the Winnipeg Jets, the Minnesota Wild, the St. Louis Blues, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets.                        

    Admittedly, this division is a little lacking in tradition as four of the seven members were founded in 1998 or later. The positive from this is by giving these relatively young franchises a shot at the playoffs, we can hopefully avoid any further relocations.

Eastern Conference: Northeast Division

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    Moving to the East, it becomes clear just how stacked the Conference has become.

    Dividing the 15 teams into two balanced divisions was a difficult task, especially under the constraints of the suggested names; East and South. 

    Looking at the map, I just don't see it working. Instead, I think they should go with Northeast and Atlantic.

    In the Northeast Division, I see a strong lineup of teams including the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres, the New Jersey Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings.

    Imagine the rivalries just waiting to be renewed. Seeing teams such as the Rangers, the Red Wings, the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs all battling for playoff seeding is a hockey fan's dream.

    Some may say that this lineup is too stacked for its own good, but in their current situations, I only see four contenders in this group. More than talent, this group possesses tradition.

    If Bettman is serious about realignment, a division with this type of history is a real possibility.

Eastern Conference: Atlantic Divison

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    While the Northeast Division may be steeped in tradition, the Atlantic Division looks like it is straight out of Pierre McGuire's diary. 

    In a division featuring the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins, the star-studded matchups are seemingly endless.

    Just imagine the dramatic montages that NBC could put together highlighting Ovechkin and Stamkos every time the Caps and Bolts lace it up. And with the history between the Bruins and the Flyers, you know that every game will be a must-see.

    With the youth movement in Carolina, the transition of power in Florida and the literal rebuilding of the Islanders, this division could be one of the strongest and most exciting from top to bottom.

    If this situation is handled properly, it could prove to be one of the bright spots of Commissioner Bettman's tenure.