NHL Realignment: A Good Idea That Needs Some Final Tweaks

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NHL Realignment: A Good Idea That Needs Some Final Tweaks
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The NHL has announced their realignment plans that they hope to start next season. A few details still need to be worked out but as of now the new conferences will look like this:

Conference   "A"      

Conference "B"

Conference "C"

Conference "D"

Anaheim

Chicago

Boston

Carolina

Calgary

Columbus

Buffalo

New Jersey

Colorado

Dallas

Florida

New York Islanders

Edmonton

Detroit

Montreal

New York Rangers

Los Angeles

Minnesota

Ottawa

Philadelphia

Phoenix

Nashville

Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh

San Jose

St. Louis

Toronto

Washington

Vancouver

Winnipeg

 

 

The new alignment tries to mesh the needs two competing issues. With the move to Winnipeg, the Jets franchise were no longer a viable entity for the Eastern Conference. Detroit was the logical choice to swap places with them; however, they are the money makers for several Western Conference teams who did not want to see them leave. As part of the new alignment, teams will at least play a home-and-home series with every team in the league.

This plan helps to fix several issues. Detroit, as well as Columbus, will no longer have as many West Coast games. The late road start times are a killer for the fan base and in turn TV ratings. While Detroit has a strong following, this may be one of the reasons why Columbus has struggled gaining fans.  Having fewer late night games will hopefully help them.

By still playing out West, those teams will still have the Detroit bandwagon roll into town at least once per season to fill their seats. In addition, players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos will also make it out West and will sell tickets as well. On the flip side, teams out East will be able to see Pavel Datsyuk, the Sedin brothers and Corey Perry on a regular basis.

So far it is a win-win scenario for all. Of course, we could nitpick on the placement of a few teams, but overall it will work.

The problem with the plan comes when the playoffs start. As of now the top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs. They will then play each other over two rounds. The remaining team will then make the final four against the other conference champions.

There are two main issues with this. First, the conferences are not balanced as two have eight teams while the other two have seven. There is a huge advantage to having only seven teams competing for a playoff spot. This advantage is unfair to the other conferences and will skew any playoff race.

The other issue is taking the top four in each conference. Beyond it being easier for two of the conferences, it will also leave out better teams. The goal of the playoffs should be to pit the best teams together. Looking at last year’s standings, the Los Angeles Kings' 98 points would have been better than five of the teams that made the playoffs. However, they would have been left out.

During the 2008-09 season, both Carolina and the Rangers would have been better than six teams that made the playoffs, but both would be left out. If two of the past three seasons are showing that much of an error rate, then it will need to be addressed before this plan is put into place.

There are two options to handle this problem. The first would be to match up two of the conferences. If A and B are teamed up together and then C and D, then nothing has really changed. It would still be East vs. West, so they would need to be crossed. A would need to be paired with C or D, and then B would get the remaining team. Come playoff time, this will lead to some long cross country trips but Detroit has done that for years, so why not spread the burden around?

The second and better option would be to maintain the inter-conference play of the first two rounds with one change. If a team from another conference has a better record, they would bump the bottom team.

For example:

Conference "A"      

 

Conference "B"

 

Conference "C"

 

Conference "D"

 

Anaheim

106

Detroit

112

Boston

110

Carolina

105

Calgary

104

Columbus

105

Buffalo

108

New Jersey

103

Colorado

101

Dallas

104

Florida

105

New York Islanders

102

Edmonton

101

Chicago

98

Montreal

101

Philadelphia

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rangers

 

99

Under this scenario the Rangers would bump Chicago and would play within Conference B for the playoffs. This would be the best option as not only do the best teams make the playoffs, but it will add an exciting wild-card element.

This would eliminate full cross-country early round trips that would happen under the first option. It would allow for rivalries to build within a conference, plus in some years add a wild card as well as ensuring that the best teams in the league make the playoffs.

One issue the league has yet to figure out is how to handle the final four teams. The best option is to reseed the teams based on their regular season standings. The top team would play the fourth team while the second and third best teams face off. This would make for the best semifinal and finals matchups.

The balanced schedule is the best option and keeps the league from having to pick between Detroit, Columbus or Nashville for the coveted spot in the East. Teams playing each other will help showcase the talent all across the league. While individual teams may have slightly better options if things changed a little more, this is the best move for the league as a whole. Now they just need to tweak the playoff format to make it the truly positive move for the league.

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