6.04.2011

Realignment

Joe Sakic skates for the Quebec Nordiques, who were relocated to become the Colorado Avalanche. (NHL)
Today in the NHL (and for next season as well) the 30 NHL teams are split up, or "aligned", into 2 separate conferences further split into 3 divisions of 5 teams each. All 6 divisions are split mainly based on geographic location, and all 6 do not intersect with each other at all. That is, they didn't until the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers.

While the NHL Board of Governors hasn't officially approved the sale of the the Thrashers to True North in Winnipeg, all indications are that the sale will go through as planned. What is almost certain is that the team will not be in Atlanta next season. This all poses a slight issue in terms of the divisional alignment. While Atlanta is easily located in the same general area as Tampa Bay, Washington DC, or Raleigh, Winnipeg is nowhere near. Just take a look at this diagram I made of the NHL teams by division next season (it isn't perfect, but it is good enough to prove a point).
Winnipeg isn't even in Southeast Canada. C'mon now.
Up until the moving of the Atlanta Thrashers, each NHL division could be easily separated into distinct geographical areas. However, it is quite clear that is no longer the case, as evidenced by Winnipeg's location literally half way across the continent from the rest of it's Southeast division mates. Perhaps the worst part of this arrangement is that, barring a huge change in the current NHL schedule structure (which the league has said will happen, in one form or another), is that the Winnipeg team will not get to have too many games against their geographical rivals (namely the Central and Northwest teams) while instead having the Southeast Division teams fly up to Winnipeg many times a year. Of course, this could all be fixed by the NHL's schedule changes (whatever they may be; my guess is more inter-conference games and fewer intra-division games). But there is another solution, one which more permanently fixes the problem, and one that will likely happen following the 2011-2012 season.




While I surely could come up with myriad realignment plans varying from doable to absolutely crazy, I figured I would present the one that I personally think should and will happen.
Much better.
The changes I propose are as follows: Colorado, currently in the Northwest Division, moves to the Pacific Division to accomodate Winnipeg in the Northwest. Dallas, currently in the Pacific Division, moves to the Central to accomodate Colorado in the Pacific. Finally, Nashville moves from the Central Division to the Southeast Division to replace the departed Atlanta Thrashers.

Now, I chose Nashville over two other teams that have been talked about in regards to moving to the Eastern Conference (Detroit and Columbus) for a couple of reasons. I picked Nashville over both teams mainly because of the fact that it is easier to add to the Southeast Division, while moving Detroit or Columbus to the East would require further divisional movement in the East, which is neither wanted nor needed (I think the East has fairly balanced divisions as well as multiple intra-division rivalries that would be difficult and counterproductive to break apart). On that note, I don't think Detroit should move East because it would mean fewer Detroit-Chicago games, or Detroit-San Jose games, or Detroit-Colorado games. Of course, there are many Eastern teams that could easily build a rivalry with Detroit, but I still am against moving them. Also, Nashville often struggles to get anywhere in the highly competitive Western Conference, but I believe their team could do very well in an often weaker Eastern Conference.

Of course, all of this at the moment is complete and utter speculation. We will likely have to wait a year to see the NHL's final decision on realignment. But, it will definitely continue to be an interesting point for discussion and debate until then. 

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