NHL Realignment: Premier League: Could English Soccer Be the Answer?

Russell FrancisContributor IIINovember 19, 2011

NHL Realignment: Premier League: Could English Soccer Be the Answer?

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    Welcome to the fifth installment of my NHL Realignment series.

    From the first time, recall that NHL realignment is on the horizon for the 2012-13 season.

    The Winnipeg Jets are most certainly leaving the Southeast Division, and the dominoes will start to fall from there.

    The Nashville PredatorsDetroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are aiming to move to the Eastern Conference to take the place of the former Atlanta Thrashers.

    But it doesn't take a geographer to realize the Detroit Red Wings simply do not belong in the Southeast Division.

    After reading the excellent NHL Realignment Project on Tomfulery, I was inspired to come up with some different possibilities.

    Any alignment needs the following four points to be considered:

    1. Travel Time 
    2. Schedule balance
    3. Games outside of a team's time zone 
    4. Games against traditional rivals

    I will be posting slightly outside-the-box possibilities for NHL realignment. In some way, these all stretch the paradigm in some way.

    In this edition we look to European Soccer Leagues for inspiration. The National Hockey League will be divided in two. On one hand we will have the Premier Hockey League, consisting of the elite teams in the league, and then the National Hockey League, which will have the rest.

    For the purposes of this alignment, we will have 12 teams in the Premier Hockey League and 18 teams in the National Hockey League. Obviously, we could get this to be much bigger if we incorporated some American Hockey League teams, but for the purposes of this post we'll leave that alone.

Premier Hockey League

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    Anaheim Ducks

    Boston Bruins

    Chicago Blackhawks

    Detroit Red Wings

    Nashville Predators

    Pittsburgh Penguins

    Philadelphia Flyers

    Phoenix Coyotes

    San Jose Sharks

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    Vancouver Canucks

    Washington Capitals

    This consists of the Stanley Cup finalists from the past three years, plus the top six other teams from last year's regular season.

    I considered making it more Stanley Cup finalists, but then we extend to the Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, which is not a bad thing, but these were not good teams in the past season, so they probably didn't deserve to make it.

    This has a very good representation geographically with four Western teams, a few in the Central, and more on the East Coast.

    The obvious problem is only one Canadian team makes the cut, but outside the Canucks, not too many have been that good in the past few seasons.

National Hockey League

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    Buffalo Sabres

    Calgary Flames

    Carolina Hurricanes

    Colorado Avalanche

    Columbus Blue Jackets

    Dallas Stars

    Edmonton Oilers

    Florida Panthers

    Los Angeles Kings

    Minnesota Wild

    Montreal Canadiens

    Ottawa Senators

    New Jersey Devils

    New York Islanders

    New York Rangers

    St. Louis Blues

    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Winnipeg Jets

    These are the "other" teams that didn't quite make the cut. Note that there are no divisions or conferences, there is no need for them outside of scheduling really. We will get to how the scheduling works...

Schedule

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    The schedule gets to be based on which league the team is in, while it's tempting to have Premier teams only play one another, that probably wouldn't fly. However, they should get more games against one another.

     

    Premier Hockey League Teams

    • Four games against the 11 teams in the Premier Hockey League for 44
    • Two games against all 18 National Hockey League Teams for another 36
    • Two extra wild-card games against other teams in the Premier Hockey League teams

     

    National Hockey League Teams

    • Two games against all 17 National Hockey League Teams for 34
    • Two games against all 12 teams in the Premier Hockey League for another 24
    • Four games against six select teams in the National Hockey League for the other 24

     

    This gives the best teams more games against the best teams, to boost their attendance, and it also treats geography as a continuum in the National Hockey League since we can't really do anything with divisions since teams will get promoted and relegated—more on that later. But it lets teams focus on geographic or traditional rivalries

Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    The playoffs in this format are a little simple, and a little complex.

    The top eight teams in the Premier Hockey League meet in a straight 1-8 playoff, where the winner gets the Stanley Cup. Based on the 2010-11 standings, the matchups would be as follows:

    No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Tampa Bay Lightning

    No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 7 Boston Bruins

    No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 6 Detroit Red Wings

    No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins  vs. No. 5 San Jose Sharks

    Teams would get re-seeded in the second round and then the Cup is awarded to the last team standing.

    The pros of this are relatively obvious. Every match is a big-name match between two high-powered teams, and it would only get better from there. Obviously travel is a massive concern when we get Pittsburgh-San Jose and Vancouver-Tampa—which is the second greatest distance between NHL rinks. Clearly a 2-3-2 format would need to be in the discussion here.

    Of course, the NHL would be giving up eight first-round series, which is a ton of money. So we'll have another, parallel playoffs going on to determine who gets promoted and relegated, just like in European Football Leagues.

Promotion/Relegation Playoffs

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    To make up for these, we can add at least 10 more series, in a pretty simple way.

    The top eight teams in the National Hockey League meet in a 1-8 playoff series. So again, based on last year, the matchups would be as follows:

    No. 1 Los Angeles Kings vs. No. 8 St. Louis Blues

    No. 2 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Carolina Hurricanes

    No. 3 Buffalo Sabres vs. No. 6 New York Rangers

    No. 4 Dallas Stars vs. No. 5 Calgary Flames

    These teams meet in a best-of-five (not seven) first round, followed by a best-of-seven second round, after they get re-seeded. After the second round they stop and do not meet in a third round. I'll get to that in a second.

    Meanwhile, the bottom four teams in the Premier League get seeded 9-12 and play in a seven-game series. Which would look like this:

    No. 9 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

    No. 10 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Phoenix Coyotes

    After a seven-game series, the winners get rewarded with...a golf trip. The winners in the Premier League Relegation series are done, the losers have to prove themselves.

    The two losing Premier Teams are matched against the two surviving National Teams in a best-of-seven series where the winners go to the Premier League for the next season, and the losers go to the National Hockey League. They can get seeded based on standings, e.g. the better team in the Premier gets the lower team in the National.

    This would probably need to have some sort of revenue sharing scheme, since the winning teams in the Premier relegation series would be screwed out of less money at the gate, but I'm sure that could be arranged.

    This playoff structure isn't overly complicated, and it keeps the elite teams in the quest for the Stanley Cup and it gives the other team a legitimate motivation to succeed.

Verdict?

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    Plus

    - This would certainly be unique to the NHL, which could drum up some interest

    - An increase in games between the best teams really helps TV ratings

    - The schedule is very easy to manage

    - Teams will be motivated to be good, for a long time. So teams like Detroit will be rewarded with years in the Premiership, while teams like Florida and Toronto will be stuck with the other bad teams

    - Not coincidentally, the best players in the league like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews are all in the best league, so they can be spotlighted much easier

    - No need to change anything if there are any relocations or expansions in the future

     

    Minus

    - Everyone gets an increase in travel

    - The biggest markets in the US and Canada—New York and Toronto, respectively—are not represented in the Premier League

    - Geographic rivals are ignored

    - The promotion/relegation system may be too much for casual fans to keep track of

    - The best teams get punished with more difficult games

    - There is zero chance of this ever happening

Other Realignment Possibilities...

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    Enjoy? Please read others in my ongoing series...

    North-South Conferences

    NFL Style

    Three Conference Solutions

    Five Divisions, Zero Conferences

    Premier League — European Soccer Style

    Alignment Based on Expansion

    Six Divisions, Zero Conferences (Coming Soon!)