Ever since the Atlanta Thrashers packed up and moved to Winnipeg, the NHL has been trying to figure out how to make sense of its divisions and conferences. This season, the Winnipeg Jets have stayed in the former stomping ground of the Thrashers and the Southeast Division due to the timing of the sale not allowing schedule makers to move the Jets to the West, and send one team- probably the Detroit Red Wings– to the East.
The benefit of that, though, is the extra year allowed some people to think outside the box in terms of aligning the teams into divisions and conferences rather than playing it safe and doing a one-for-one swap of teams. Also, the impending relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes is hanging over the NHL and traditional re-alignment plans like a black cloud.
The latest idea, according to Sean Leahy of Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy NHL blog, has more pros than cons but still needs a two-thirds majority to be approved.
Under the latest proposal would split the league into four divisions with no conferences. Two divisions would have eight teams while the other two (which is the current Eastern Conference) would have seven teams, as seen above. The top-four teams in each division would make the playoffs.
First the benefits, which would include playing a home-and-home with every team outside of your division. For example, the Rangers would play the Los Angeles Kings once in New York and once in Los Angeles. The Red Wings would play the Pittsburgh Penguins once in each building, and so on. Though nothing is set, the remaining games would be played inside your division, which comes out to about four to five games.
These divisions should keep everyone happy, save for the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, who would be playing a lot of games in the Northeast. All the major rivalries are still together, and some are even brought back, like the Washington Capitals being re-united with the current Atlantic division.
To make division rivalries even great, the first two rounds of the playoffs would be limited to division play. After the firs two rounds, the final four teams remaining would be re-seeded. Since there is no more East vs. West Stanley Cup matchup, you could see Stanley Cup matchups featuring the Boston Bruins vs. the Penguins, or Montreal Canadiens against the Rangers. How about Chicago Blackhawks facing off against the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup.
One of the big disadvantages would be that teams in the seven-team divisions have a slightly better chance of making the playoffs. Also, the gripe presented by the Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets wanting to play against teams in their time-zone doesn’t really get solved, but the league cannot please everyone.
I’m all for this, especially for the potential new playoff matchups. Looking at it from a Rangers standpoint, the idea of possibly playing an “Eastern Conference” team in the Cup finals, or a Western team in the semifinals is too great to pass up. Also, limiting the first two rounds to just division play would make the already stellar Stanley Cup playoffs even better. Imagine the Penguins playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the first-round, then Capitals followed by the Red Wings even before the Stanley Cup.
Obviously you cannot please everyone, and the Blue Jackets would be the biggest opponent to this idea. In order for this to get shot down, there have to be 11 organizations not in favor of it.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattCalamia