In our original post (at http://ongoalanalysis.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/that-nhl-reorganization-question%e2%80%a6/), we showed how the NHL’s impending reorganization is necessary due to the move of ATL to WPG. We offered the best option in a six-division, two-conference NHL was to make the following moves:
WPG to the Northwest with MIN, CGY, EDM and VAN.
COL to the new Southwest with all of California and PHX.
DAL to the Central with either NSH (best) or CBJ (good, but not best) to the Southeast.
And no change to the Atlantic or Northeast.
And then we wrapped up by implying there is a conspiracy theory behind going to four divisions, all to move DET to the East without making it look like that is the primary goal.
Why four divisions, and what does that look like?
A Four Division Answer
Eschewing the math (30/4 = 7.5 teams per division and therefore, an unbalanced schedule), the NHL claims it is seriously contemplating going to a ‘balanced schedule’ which will quite possibly morph into four divisions. That would, in at least one rendering, look something like this:
A Northeast (red) and Southern Division (blue) would combine into a quasi-Eastern Conference of 15 teams, while Midwest (green) and Western Divisions (orange) would make up the 15-team Western Conference. That’s right down the middle,simple math, yes?
No. Or rather, not necessarily depending on how games are played. It is a given of sorts that everyone will play at least a home-and-away against all other teams (29 x 2 = 58 games). Those 58 contests leave us with 24 more games to spread about.
Do we then just go for six more within each division? For the seven team Southern and Midwest Divisions, that’s a perfect four more regional games each (6 x 4 = 24 games intra-divisionally + 58 at 2 x everyone else = 82 games). In other words, for those two divisions you play everyone outside of your division twice and concentrate eight games on each division foe. If you are a regionalist, that’s an overtime game winning goal. Not to mention it dramatically cuts down on that overextended team travel distance, and increased player wear and tear and organizational expense (OTTD, PWT & OE) problem.
But hang on a minute. That solves the Southern and Midwest Divisions for seven teams. What about the eight-team Northeast and Western Divisions? How do we make the 24/7 = 3.82457 games work? Ah, now the math is not so clean. Now you have to do something else, like further break down those two divisions into sub-divisions of four teams each, and play four games against sub-division foes and three games against the other half of the division to get your 24 games in (4 x 3 = 12 games inside the sub-division + 3 x 4 against the other sub-division = another 12, for a total of 24 games within the Conference).
This I like to call stinkronization because it can work, but it is neither clean, nor pretty. Why go this way? With the best sport in the best League in the world, should we not be more pure, more simple, more synchronized?
Is there something else going on here?
Yes, we say. But to understand it, you have to take one step backward…
That Other Thing To Consider
Phoenix. Consumed by fire, out of the ashes rises something majestic, yes? In Arizona, no less. Phoenix is, however, apparently supposed to rise somewhere else due to the inability to sell the team over the infamous Goldwater Institute’s objections. If you believe the most talked about suggestion, that rising would be in the Quebec or Hamilton (Q/H) area. A travesty for Arizona and growing the NHL into new markets, this move would be more of Canada’s gain.
Let’s look at what that change, presumably in the 2012-13 season, would look like. But let’s start as we did in Part 1 of this study under the guise of a six-division NHL and work our way back to the four-division model.
There are at least two options of the six division variety to move PHX to Q/H. Here is Option 1:
OK, DAL fans, welcome back to the West, or in this case, the Southwest. This is practically a given if PHX moves eastward for a 2012-13 realignment. In this option, you also have to make some more adjustments due to Q/H muscling their way into the Northeast. If your overall goal is to limit those changes and the Atlantic Division is to not be disrupted unnecessarily, then you have to break up the TOR/BUF rivalry in the Northeast by moving TOR to the Western Conference. (This will understandably meet with some objection.) In a six-division world, that means one of the Central teams has to go, so for reasons mentioned yesterday, that is NSH to the Southeast. Total changes – to include the WPG move for 2011-12 – is five adjustments.
There is another option as well:
With the same change to DAL, this option looks to leave the Central Division unchanged because nobody in the East willingly wants to come West. The Northeast Division drops BUF to add Q/H and creates an interesting Division where it is easy to root for BOS against Canada if you are from south of the border. The Atlantic picks up BUF, so, geographically, one of the Pennsylvanians needs to go. In this case, to accentuate the NHL-propagated PIT versus WSH rivalry, it’s the Penguins to the Southeast. (We may need to rename the Atlantic and the Southeast here as well.) This also has five total, new changes, so is a relative wash in terms of change with Option 1. The key here is what is the intent in terms of how the NHL wants it all to look.
That’s how it could go down within a six division organization. But hold on a second…
Method To The NHL Madness?
Is there, in the pending move of PHX back northeast, a good reason to go to a four division realignment? Durnit all, we have to say, yes:
Look at those nice, tight shot groups there, eh? Gotta hand it to ‘em at the NHL. It just could be the four division thing is not a hair-brained scheme to confound our sensibilities. Instead, it seems to be more of a forward-looking attempt to synchronize, nay, harmonize the League on into the future.
I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid here because I say the above begrudgingly. But you have to give the NHL props on this one. WPG has moved, and PHX looks more likely than not to be on the outs, too. If it’s to Q/H, how clean is a Northeast Division with three Canadian teams versus BOS and the New Yorks/New Jersey?
Or an Eastern Conference with the TOR/BUF, PHI/PIT and PIT/WSH rivalries within? There should be no complaints from DET or CBJ wanting to move East, nor any of the teams assuming the regional opponents they would have there.
The Westernmost shot groups are large, but the Central Division keeps the Floridians together and brings DAL more easterly in their travels than in the past. Three-fifths of the old Central division remains together, and MIN/DAL and State of Hockey/Windy City rivalries are bound to give rise. WPG may not like being the only Canadian team in the division, but the rest of the U.S. teams would appreciate their presence and it gives WPG an us-against-the-southerners theme to rally around.
And it is hard to argue with a Western Division where 4/5 of the Northwest Division remaining together along with no geographic split of the Californians.
This reorganization, especially having an Eastern and Western Division, also begs for a renaming of the two Conferences to something more nostalgic in nature. That would pique the interest of NHL historians and set off lots of public discussion which in this case would be positive chatter.
And yet, it does go back to the unequal game play as mentioned above when you have two seven-team, and two eight-team, divisions.
So why not take one more step on into the future?
Even More Method/Madness
How do you solve those of us who like clean, simple scheduling? Simple. Even everything out:
For a while now, there has been talk off and on about expanding the NHL. For this to be accomplished, two additional teams provides a more symmetrical Hockey world. While several cities have been bandied about, two who hold promise in terms of budgetary and fan base needs are a second Toronto (T2) and Kansas City (KC) options. You can argue for Las Vegas – many players would! – while crying ‘Remember the KC Scouts debacle,’ but lets just run with the T2 and KC options for argument’s sake. (Kansas CIty has, after all, built a new arena and offered free rent…)
The above picture shows the DET-to-the-East move in a division with a huge array of Canadians in the Northeast. The Eastern Division adds WSH, CBJ and CAR to the current Atlantic Division. You have two ways to go with either DAL or WPG in the Central Division depending on intent to have a Canadian team in every Division or not. And then you have the Western Division with majority parts of the current Pacific and Northwest within. We tend to think the most likely breakdown of the west here would be what is in the dotted lines for that nice, tight shot group and in support of sub-divisions.
Why sub-divisions? That’s for scheduling purposes such as this:
Two games against everyone outside of your division for a total of 48 games.
Three games against your other sub-division. For BOS, that’s three each against TOR, T2, DET and BUF for 12 more games. Our total is now 60 games on the schedule.
And finally, seven each within your sub-division. Sticking with BOS, that’s seven times against MTL, Q/H and OTT for 21 more games. That becomes a grand total of 81 games in a new, 32-team NHL season.
One less game overall with just more than 25% of the season played in a very small travel radius supports that OTTD, PWT & OE bottom line. Now we have a great option on into the future that takes into account a most likely move in 2012-13 and the possibility of potential expansion later. That has to be what truly is at the crux of the League’s methodology here.
I now bow down to the seeming incongruity of the four division League concept. A tip of the hat to you, NHL.
Any way you slice it, the winds of change are blowing. Jump on board and raise your sail, fans…