As expected, the NHL’s Board of Governors voted–overwhelmingly, but not unanimously–today to approve a plan to realign the league’s 30 teams into four divisions in an effort to create more geographically stable groupings.
Despite earlier reports, it appears that the divisions have not yet been named (so Milan Lucic doesn’t have to worry about looking out his window at the Atlantic Ocean while playing in the Central Division).
In an afternoon conference call, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the names were still a couple weeks away. “We’re hoping to used the names that make it easiest for our fans to conjure up which teams are where,” he added.
Apparently Gary doesn’t just think hockey has the greatest fans in the world, but also the dumbest.
Until permanent names are assigned, here is how things have been laid out:
Division A: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.
Division B: Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
Division C: Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Division D: Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals join the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
While those new divisions make sense (for the most part, anyway), the transition won’t be entirely bump-free. The uneven size of the two conferences requires a creative approach to regular-season scheduling.
Here’s how it will play out in the Western Conference:
Within conference (division): 29 games • 5 games vs. five teams (3 home/2 away vs. two teams, 2 home/3 away vs. three teams) AND 4 games vs. one team (2 home/2 away). Teams rotated on a yearly basis. • 5 x 5 = 25 games • 1 x 4 = 4 games
Within conference (Non-division): 21 games • 3 games vs. each team (2 home/1 away vs. four teams, 1 home/2 away vs. three teams). Teams are rotated on a yearly basis. • 3 x 7 = 21 games
Non-conference: 32 games • 2 games vs. each team (1 home/1 away) • 2 x 16 = 32 games
(Exception: one team from each division plays one less game inside its division and one more game inside its conference but outside its division.)
The eight-team divisions make things a little more stable in the Eastern Conference.
Within conference (division): 30 games • 5 games vs. two teams (3 home/2 away vs. one team, 2 home/3 away vs. one team) AND 4 games vs. five teams (2 home/2 away). Teams are rotated on a yearly basis. • 5 x 2 =10 games • 4 x 5 = 20 games
Within conference (Non-division): 24 games • 3 games vs. each team (2 home/1 away vs. four teams, 1 home/2 away vs. four teams). Teams are rotated on a yearly basis. • 3 x 8 = 24 games
Non-conference: 28 games • 2 games vs. each team (1 home/1 away) • 2 x 14 = 28 games
And that’s the beauty right there: every team plays a home-and-home with every team in the league, so fans will finally have at least one chance (barring injury) to see every player/team.
There’s also a new Stanley Cup playoff format that looks to the past in an effort to fire up divisional rivalries while addressing the inequities of the unbalanced conferences.
The top three finishers in each division are in. The remaining two spots will be awarded to the next two best point totals, who enter as wild cards. They’ll be seeded seventh and eighth and will play the second and first-place teams, respectively.
After that, it’s business as usual.
Interestingly, the league’s press release ends with this:
“The National Hockey League Players’ Association has given its consent to play under this new Alignment and Playoff System for a minimum of three seasons, through the 2015-16 NHL season.”
Which flies in the face of this from NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr:
“After discussions with the Executive Board, the NHLPA has given consent to realignment, to be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season.”
Nothing’s ever easy with those two, is it?
Whenever it ends, odds are this realignment will be well received — for the most part. Nashville, Florida and Tampa Bay won’t be thrilled, but if you can keep 90 percent of the teams happy, it’s a winning formula.