Monday, December 12, 2011


Extremely confused and hardly enthused.
Last Monday, the NHL Board of Governors approved a conference realignment scheme that has since been referred to as "radical," "chaotic," and "inequitable." I'd like to add another adjective to the mix: Bettman-esque. The commissioner's conference plan is just one more bad decision amidst the worst commissioner tenure in modern sports. Among the lowlights of the deal are conferences of different sizes (two with 7 teams, two with 8) and a hazy, undefined playoff structure.

The league has yet to name each of the four new conferences, so I've taken the liberty of doing so myself:

Quebec Nordiques Memorial Conference: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks
Over-Expansion Division: Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets
The "Two Of These Things Are Not Like The Others" Conference: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadians, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs
Lockout '04-05 Division - People Don't Forget: Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburg Penguins, Washington Capitals

Certainly, there are some positives that emerge from the new conference structuring. For one thing, travel will be vastly reduced for many Western Conference teams that were previously getting the Samuel L. Jackson. Additionally, all teams will play each other at least twice - once per home venue - meaning season ticket holders will get to see every NHL team at least once.

And that's where the list of pros ends. These benefits, however, are in no way worth the sacrifices that the NHL is making. Here are four of the most noticeable problems with the new division alignment:

1) Travel issuess aren't really solved - Upon announcing the new structure, league officials admitted - there is no perfect solution. Exhibit A: see above. While the burden may be lifted for some teams, it has been placed squarely on others. Take a look, for example, at the Northeast/Southeast "Two Of These Things Are Not Like The Others" Conference. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning get to fly straight past Nashville, Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York en route to play their "divisional" matchups against Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Um, what?

2) No other league has a 4-conference structure - Since Wayne Gretzky retired, which if I'm not mistaken happened sometime during the late 1800s, hockey has veered away from the mainstream and cemented a reputation as a niche sport. The infamous TV deal with Versus certainly hasn't helped. If the NHL wants to rebuild a reputation as a major American sports league, then why shy away from the traditional 2-conference structure? This point is essentially your classic peer pressure / "nobody else is doing it" argument. But let's face it: even if he grew up to be a cool guy, there's a reason why no one in elementary school wanted to hang out with the kid who wore corduroys and a sweater-vest every day. NHL, put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt like everybody else.

3) Problems were created where there didn't need to be any - Divisional structure has been a hot-button topic in Major League Baseball as of late. The perceived inequity of having one 4-team division and one 6-team division was so great that baseball bumped Houston to the AL despite the scheduling nightmare it now creates. With this new realignment, however, the NHL has gone in the opposite direction, willingly creating an unnecessary imbalance. Two conferences will now have 7 teams, while the other two will have 8 clubs, which *segway* means serious playoff inequity.

4) Playoffs?!?! - How will the new NHL playoffs be structured??? The league has yet to decide. But don't worry, as was apparently the consensus in the NHL boardroom, that's an issue that can be figured out later. There's even talk of adding a MLB-like play-in round between 4th and 5th place teams because, yeah, the NHL needs more teams in the playoffs. The likely proposal is that the top four teams from each conference will advance to the postseason for 2 rounds of within conference playoff series, followed by some type of final four between each conference champion. This would deprive us of some of the greatest hockey rivalries in later postseason rounds. Detroit vs. Chicago, Boston vs. Montreal, etc could never take place after round 2. For shame, NHL, for shame.


  1. This is one of the "wrong-er" articles I've ever read. The re-alignment is great. Not sure where to start, but to respond to the points...

    1) Travel issues aren't "solved" per-se, but they are better for the most part. The only teams who have it worse are Florida and Tampa. And yeah, they are screwed. But who the hell cares about those teams? Does Florida even care? This could be for the best because maybe they'll move the teams up to real hockey towns that have actual cold winters (Bring back the Nordiques!)

    2) Who cares what other leagues are like? The NFL was a mess until the re-structuring, and it's still a mess. And it's turned soft. I like that the NHL is trying to protect players' heads, but banning goal celebrations or fighting would suck. This is just an example of why the NHL shouldn't try to conform to the same customs as other leagues. And the NBA almost didn't even have a season.

    3) This is a decent point, but I'm still not sure how important it is. I'll get back to you.

    4) The idea of having to play the first 2 playoff rounds within the division is great. It will mean MORE great hockey rivalry match-ups, not less. This is because Bettman structured the re-alignment around keeping rivalries intact. Plus it's not like we could see a Detroit v Chicago or Boston v Montreal Stanley Cup Final now. So... while they won't play each other in the 3rd round, they have a far better chance of matching up at some point in the playoffs. So yeah.

    Also everybody gets home and home series with each other. Which is awesome.

    I mean I'm a Flyers fan, so I guess I'm biased because under the new alignment, we travel I think less than any other team in the league.

    But the bottom line is that this won't actually be that big of a deal as far as changing what actually happens in the NHL, even if it is allegedly "radical."

  2. the re-alignment issue was started because of atlanta's move to winnipeg. detroit and nashville saw this as an opportunity to complain about being in the western conference. there was no need to do something drastic. this proposal addressed the concerns of these three teams, but didn't do it in the best way possible. if only there were a way to minimize all travel routes for everyone...

    the "atlantic coast conference" makes sense geographically on its own, but it doesn't when you consider the other teams (why include pittsburgh and washington? why not include boston?). a great lakes conference, a revised atlantic coast conference, a southern conference, and a western conference would have made more sense.

    beyond the poor choice of teams in each conference, having a different number of teams in each conference doesn't make sense. i hope they combine the "eastern conferences" and the "western conferences," and adopt the former playoff structure- the two division winners get the top two spots and the rest of the spots are for the wildcards.

    also- you can disagree with an opinion, but it can't be wrong or "wrong-er."