I am a military man. That being the case, I know anyone can teach anybody, anything with a good picture. In the case of NHL reorganization, that picture is all on the map.
Defining The Realignment Problem
Firstly, you need to see why the NHL needs to reorganize, given the move of Atlanta (ATL) to Winnipeg (WPG):
There is a complete lack of symmetry there on the map. Bad symmetry equals overextended team travel distances, and increased player wear and tear and organizational expense (OTTD, PWT & OE). This is fundamentally why realignment is necessary. See how easy it is to understand from a picture/map? As my boys would say, “Duh!”
Buying in to realignment as a stroke of common sense, let’s first argue that the NHL should retain its current, six division breakdown versus trial balloon statements that the league will be going to only four.
What’s the big deal here? It’s all about simple math. Try dividing 30 by four. With an answer of 7.5, we do not have an even number. This means we have to juggle an unbalanced schedule to come up with a like number of games for all teams to play. So the simplistic answer is to retain six divisions because 30 divided by six yields the even number of ‘five’ and viola, a balanced schedule.
So let’s first attack realignment in pictures with ye olde six division organization. Our belief here at OGA is that realignment requires a two-step process.
Step 1: Realign The West
Because ATL is now WPG, Step 1 is to realign the West. Specifically, WPG’s proximity to Edmonton (EDM), Calgary (CGY) and Minnesota (MIN) means the formerly Eastern Conference/Southeast Division team needs to move to the Western Conference/Northwest Division. This has some potential second and third orders of effect for Vancouver (VAN), Colorado (COL) and Dallas (DAL).
Here is one scenario for Step 1:
This option we personally like best as it provides what we like to call in the military a nice, tight shot group for the Northwest Division of VAN, EDM, CGY, WPG and MIN and what could be called the new
Southwest Division with San Jose (SJS), Los Angeles (LAK), Anaheim (ANA), Phoenix (PHX) and COL. DAL would move to the Western Conference/Central Division, a plus for the Stars in lessening their traditionally terrible travel schedule.
Major changes here are a break in the COL/MIN rivalry specifically, which has grown from past Playoff matchups, as well as rivalry breaks for the Avalanche with the rest of the current Northwest Division in
DAL’s move is a necessity here as it is in Option 2 below:
Here we have a more-Pacific like grouping along the west coast (plus PHX). COL remains with the Northwest Division minus VAN and plus WPG, of course. And DAL moves to the Central Division.
This is slightly less advantageous for the simple reason the shot group spread out, which equals that nasty OTTD, PWT & OE. So when it comes to six divisions in Step 1, we say the fix is an adjusted Northwest Division, a new Southwest Division, and DAL to the Central Division.
Step 2: Now Fix The Central and East
We believe fixing the Central division, necessitated by DAL moving in, also has second and third orders of effect for the entire Eastern Conference’s organization. So we combine fixing the entire rest of the NHL into Step 2.
DAL into the Central Division equals one of the current Central teams moving to the Eastern Conference. There is a ton of speculation here, but basically, three options to ponder.
Option 1 is to move Nashville (NSH) East:
Here you can see some good symmetry of the divisions and a regional bent of NSH into the Southeast Division with Tampa Bay (TBL), Florida (FLA), Carolina (CAR) and Washington (WSH). There also is no change to either the Atlantic or Northeast Divisions. Our lesson learned here is that when we are talking institutional organization, the easiest change to execute is the one with the least moving parts. This fits the bill in that respect.
Step 2, Option 2 is to move Columbus (CBJ) to the Eastern Conference vice NSH:
This option really has no major difference in terms of total moves made (four) than the NSH option. The only argument against this is that CBJ really isn’t in the Southeast, it’s in the Midwest. (I know, I know.
Neither is WSH. But they already play in the Southeast Division, so we have continuity on our side there.)
The third option is what we call the ‘Big Stick (BS).’ This is in reference to Detroit (DET) moving to the Eastern Conference. We call it the ‘BS’ for two reasons. First are all of the arguments to do it relating to
the Red Wings’ TV/Cable market share, a reuniting of an Original Six team with its other, Eastern brethren, and other such urgings which could just about passionately jam the change through. Second is because pushing it through has several, difficult consequences for the Eastern Conference:
You can now organize DET in one of two, geographically close ways.
One way is to align DET in a Northern Division with Pittsburgh (PIT), Toronto (TOR), Buffalo (BUF) and Ottawa (OTT). The fallout from this move is separating PIT from Philadelphia (PHI) and the Atlantic Division and Ottawa (OTT) from the Northeast. You also can then determine you do not want to separate the Original Six rivalry of Montreal (MTL) and Boston (BOS) or the New York Rangers and Islanders (NYR and NYI) and New Jersey (NJD), so PHI has to join the Southeast. That’s seven teams affected by this
alignment. Complicated and messy, no?
The other is to put DET in a Division with TOR, BUF, PIT and PHI, keeping Pennsylvania in tact. That lands OTT, MTL, BOS, NYR and NYI in the new Northeast and NJD now the odd man out moving to the Southeast. Here we have 10 teams, one-third of the NHL, adjusting because DET had to move to the
Eastern Conference. That does not meet the common sense rule in our book. It also is likely not to meet yours looking at the map, and quite possibly that of the NHL as well.
There is one, last option floated out there. It is to move DAL to the Southeast versus the Central:
In this scenario, NSH moves with DAL to the Southeast in a truly southern alignment with CAR, TBL and FLA. But to also keep the Northeast and Atlantic with no change, WSH moves West with CBJ, DET, CHI and STL in a new Central Division. That’s six team changes which is less than either of the DET-to-the-East options, but 50% again more than DAL moving to the Central. It also now has a coast-to-coast Conference element, a strong reason this realignment option is likely to be thrown out. Sorry DAL-to-the-south fans.
So as two conferences with six divisions go, common sense would seem to say the following:
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.
You are talking a home-and-away game against the alternate Conference (30 games), three each against the other two divisions in your team’s Conference (30 more for 60 total games), and five each against the other four teams within the Division (a plus 20, for a total of 80 games in the regular season). Not a bad realignment for the fans, and two fewer games is almost a week’s less playing time with an improved OTTD, PWT & OE.
Aaaaahh… Problem solved, right? Sure.
Unless you still want to move DET to the East. But not really because who wants it to look like bullying, right? So the plan is to move the Red Wings East but not make it look like it.
That is where four divisions instead of six comes in. And that is the subject of Part 2 to this blog, to be published late on Monday, 18 July…