By Scott Kozlowski aka scottkoz20

When the NHL approved the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment for the purposes of moving the franchise to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season, the evil R-word (realignment) was going to be a necessary topic of discussion.

A lot has been said since that time regarding realignment, specifically which team(s) should go to what division. There is a lot of lobbying from various people to position their team in the slot that Winnipeg will vacate when they move to the Western Conference next season.  Most people would tell you that Detroit, Columbus or Nashville would move to the Southeast Division, Winnipeg would move to the Central and life would move on, most divisional rivalries would be kept place.  If a swap like this were to occur, Nashville makes the most sense because of its location to Washington, Carolina and the Florida teams.

From a financial standpoint, it would make fiscal sense to move Columbus into the Eastern Conference in order to keep Columbus stable in that market.  Others will tell you that Detroit is going to be moving to the Eastern Conference because they are owed that from the last realignment.  However, what happens one of the league’s historic rivalries, Detroit vs. Chicago?  They would only play 1 to 2 games per season.  Now, the Toronto vs. Montreal rivalry was split for years; however the league is better with them playing multiple times a season.

In this realignment, there is going be people that are happy and others that will not be happy.  But why does it have to be moving one team to one conference and stay with the same structure?  What about a radical idea; all 30 teams being placed into 3 Conferences!  Yes, 3 conferences, Eastern, Central and Western Conference.

The following is the breakdown of each of the conferences if my plan were to be adopted:

Eastern Conference Central Conference Western Conference
  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Carolina Hurricanes
  3. Florida Panthers
  4. Montreal Canadiens
  5. New Jersey Devils
  6. New York Islanders
  7. New York Rangers
  8. Philadelphia Flyers
  9. Tampa Bay Lightning
  10. Washington Capitals
  1. Buffalo Sabres
  2. Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Minnesota Wild
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Ottawa Senators
  8. Pittsburgh Penguins
  9. St. Louis Blues
  10. Toronto Maple Leafs
  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Calgary Flames
  3. Colorado Avalanche
  4. Dallas Stars
  5. Edmonton Oilers
  6. Los Angeles Kings
  7. Phoenix Coyotes
  8. San Jose Sharks
  9. Vancouver Canucks
  10. Winnipeg Jets

As you can see, most of the conferences are structured from a geographical perspective.  There will be some breaking of divisional rivals, such as Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia and Montreal vs. Toronto, but this can be addressed in the way the 82 game scheduled can be structured.

Wait, how can one get 82 games from this structure?

  • 4 games vs. teams within the conference (36 conference games)
    • 9 teams x 4 games each (2 home and 2 away)
    • 2 games vs. each team from the other 2 conferences home and home (40 non-conference games)
      • 20 teams x 2 games each  (1 home and 1 away)
      • 6 “Wild Card” games
        • No additional Conference Games
        • 3 Home and 3 Away
        • 1 additional game against the same opponent
        • Can be scheduled to keep past rivalries going
          • Such as Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia and Montreal vs. Toronto
  • To build upon a playoff rivalry from the previous season.

With this type of structure, each team is guaranteed a minimum of 2 games against each team in the league with no more than 4 games against a team.  The schedule is a bit more balanced, but does keep the importance of playing games within your own conference.

OK, the regular season is set; now what would the Playoffs and the structure of the playoffs look like?

This is easy!  The best 16 teams overall would qualify for the playoffs, regardless of conference or position within the conference.  It is possible that all 10 teams from a Conference could make the playoffs.

The structure of the playoffs would be as follows:

  • Winner of each conference would be guaranteed a Top 4 seed in the playoffs
    • Similar to the NBA Playoff structure where a non-division(conference winner) could have a higher seed
    • Conference winners would have at least 2 rounds of home ice advantage in the playoffs.
    • The Top seed would play the lowest seed in the first round; the #2 seed would play the #15 seed and so on.
      • 1 vs. 16
      • 2 vs. 15
      • 3 vs. 14
      • 4 vs. 13
      • 5 vs. 12
      • 6 vs. 11
      • 7 vs. 10
      • 8 vs. 9
  • There would be no reseeding after each round

The playoff bracket set as The Prince of Wales Bracket and the Clarence Campbell bracket.  The teams in each of the brackets would play for the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Campbell Bowl respectively.  (Click on the bracket to expand the image size)

 

So how would the 2011-12 standings look if this were in place today (standings as of November 13, 2011; Playoff teams are in BOLD).

Eastern Conference Central Conference Western Conference
  1. Philadelphia      21
  2. Washington       21
  3. NY Rangers         21
  4. Florida                  19
  5. Tampa Bay          18
  6. New Jersey        17
  7. Boston                  16
  8. Montreal             16
  9. Carolina                15
  10. NY Islanders       11
  1. Chicago                25
  2. Pittsburgh           23
  3. Toronto                21
  4. Minnesota          21
  5. Buffalo                 20
  6. Detroit                 19
  7. Nashville             19
  8. St. Louis               17
  9. Ottawa                 17
  10. Columbus            7
  1. Dallas                    22
  2. Edmonton           20
  3. Vancouver          19
  4. Phoenix               19
  5. Los Angeles        19
  6. San Jose               19
  7. Colorado              17
  8. Calgary                 15
  9. Anaheim              15
  10. Winnipeg             13

If the season were to end today, the Playoff bracket would look like this (Click on the bracket to expand the image size):


The first round of the playoffs would feature the return of the Florida Panthers to the playoffs for the 1st time since 2000, the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1st time since the lockout, 3 cross-continent matchups and an original 6 playoff matchup between the Rangers and Detroit.

If this system was in place for last season’s playoffs, the 1st round playoff matchups would have been (Click on the bracket to expand the image size):

 

Author Note:  New York Rangers made the playoffs last season as the 8th seed in the East and would have finished 18th overall, giving the last playoff seed to Dallas.  Additionally, 2 of the 8 match-ups would have remained the same (San Jose vs. Los Angeles and Detroit vs. Phoenix).

Do you think Vancouver and Boston would have made the Finals if this were the playoff brackets?

In closing, this type of realignment is a radical idea.  It places focus for teams to not only win within their conference, but forces teams to know what all teams are doing, not just the teams within their conference.  Additionally, this structure also addresses the potential issue of teams looking for help on their travel costs, as Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville would all benefit from a savings in travel costs, which is what they are looking for.