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If Atlanta moves to Winnipeg, how should the NHL realign the divisions?

May 15, 2011, 10:30 AM EDT

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Sometimes here we have to expand our minds a bit and start drawing up scenarios for potential situations. We don’t usually delve into the fantasy world here but with the chatter growing louder about the possibility of the Atlanta Thrashers being sold to David Thomson’s True North group and moved to Winnipeg we can’t help but get wondering about some things. Mostly, we want to know what happens to how the divisions and teams will be lined up.

If Atlanta moves to Winnipeg there’s no logical way to have Winnipeg be in either the Eastern Conference nor the Southeast Division and with the NHL not being eager to have a mismatched number of teams in each conference, someone in the west would move east. The questions here are who would be the one to move and just how would the divisions be set up? We’ve got some ideas on how things could play out.

You’d have three instant candidates to move to the Eastern Conference: Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville. The easy part of this equation would be what would happen to Winnipeg. The move that makes most sense for them would be to have them slide into the Northwest Division and take the place of the Colorado Avalanche. There they would have a local rivalry with the Minnesota Wild and be lumped in with the three other Canadian teams in the West.

The Avalanche would then jump to the Pacific Division where they would take the place of the Dallas Stars. The Stars would then jump into the Central Division where they would take the place of which ever team between the Wings, Jackets, and Predators that headed East. Of course, which of those teams would go is the part of the hot debate.

Detroit’s case that they would make to go is based upon location. They’re in the Eastern time zone and have historical rivals they could get reacquainted with very quickly in Toronto and Montreal. Travel is a major bugaboo for the Wings when they hit the road. After all, those west coast swings hurt. Red Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano says that a move won’t be happening next season for the Wings, but he hopes the NHL could cut them a break in the future.

What hurts Detroit’s case is their rivalry with Chicago. Red Wings-Blackhawks games are once again a must-see event with lots of their matchups ending up on national television. With both teams being perpetual playoff teams now, there’s a lot of money to be made off of these two teams duking it out a few times a year. Detroit and Chicago also represent the Western Conferences only original six teams. Leaving the Blackhawks on an island by themselves wouldn’t do the league any favors even in spite of Chicago’s budding rivalries with San Jose and Vancouver.

Columbus can make a similar case to Detroit in that they too are in the Eastern time zone. Geographically speaking they’re just a tad further east than Detroit and could develop an instant regional rivalry with Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets have already asked the NHL about moving to the East so they’re at least on the record. Helping make their case is that Columbus has no real ties to the teams in the West. They’ve got a “rivalry” of sorts with Detroit thanks to locality and divisional ties but that would be traded out easily for Pittsburgh. A move to the East would also help lend a hand to the Blue Jackets to give them a better shot at the playoffs. Let’s face it, the Western Conference is a bit tougher than the East.

Something working against both Detroit and Columbus is that moving them to East throws the divisional setup way out of whack. Both teams would fit in well in the Northeast Division, but who slides out for them? Going by geographical set up, Boston would make sense to have them go to the Atlantic Division… But then someone needs to get out of there to go to the Southeast Division. Philadelphia is the southernmost team there and that doesn’t exactly jive well considering the Flyers’ rivalries with every single other Atlantic Division team. So what next? The logical move.

Nashville has established themselves pretty well in the Western Conference having made the playoffs more often than not over the last few years. They’re also a bit odd in that they’re stuck in a division that’s nasty year in and year out dealing with Detroit and Chicago. Moving Nashville to the Eastern Conference would give them another tough, nasty team and a seamless fit into the Southeast Division.

There they could strike up regional rivalries with a southern flavor with Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida. Nashville and Washington battling numerous times a year would provide some nasty and fantastic games. If the NHL wanted to help sell the game more in the south and get some great local rivalries to go with it, this would seem like a no-brainer because it doesn’t upset things quite as much. That move coupled with sliding Dallas into the Central Division where they could reinvigorate rivalries with Detroit and Chicago would give the NHL some dynamic divisional battles.

If this should come to pass with Atlanta getting bought and moved, there will be some tough choices to make here for the NHL. How they choose to go about it will be fascinating to see and how the politics of things play out would provide fodder for future conspiracy theorists. We want to know what you think though. Who do you think would move to the Eastern Conference if the Thrashers head west? Let us know in our poll and in the comments.

  1. sknut - May 15, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    At least if the new Winnipeg was in the NW you would have two teams in the Central time zone, its a little out of whack with the Wild vs Col, Edm, Cal and Vancouver.

  2. hanktheking - May 15, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    I don’t like Winnipeg in the NW because that division becomes almost strictly Canadian. Move Nashville and why not just slot Winnipeg into the central div? They are in central Canada and Nashville
    Is in the SE USA?

  3. jsarge99 - May 15, 2011 at 6:14 PM

    Vancouver should be in the pacific division.

  4. psujay - May 15, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    Just a completely different idea…why not realign to four conferences? The fact that 30 isn’t divisible by four is a pain, but since we allow 16 teams into the playoffs anyway you could come up with four conferences of 7-8 teams each, with three from each making it in and some sort of wildcard system for the other four spots. Just going geographically…and inaccurately at that…

    Northeast Conference:
    Boston
    Buffalo
    Toronto
    Ottawa
    Montreal
    NYI
    Detroit
    NYR

    Atlantic:
    NJD
    Philly
    Pittsburgh
    Columbus
    Washington
    TB
    Florida
    Carolina

    West
    Anaheim
    San Jose
    LA Kings
    Vancouver
    Winnipeg
    Edmonton
    Calgary

    Midwest:
    Chicago
    Dallas
    Minnesota
    Phoenix
    Colorado
    Nashville
    St Louis

    Not sure how well it would work, but it would be pretty fun to see the first two rounds of the playoffs be a NCAA type bracket to the final four amongst division teams.

    Would definitely work better with 28 or 32 teams in the league though…

    • psujay - May 15, 2011 at 7:16 PM

      You could even create a “Canada” division and include one of Boston, Detroit, or Chicago and really get the fires going up north…though I’m not sure NBC would like that since it’s 75% of their hardcore viewers all in one non-American division.

  5. whatagreatfootballmind - May 15, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    EASTERN CONFERENCE

    SOUTHEAST DIVISION
    Florida
    Tampa
    Carolina
    Washington
    Nashville

    – These are the 5 most southeastern teams in the league. 4 of them are already there and basically Nashville switches from Western to Eastern Conferences. Most logical fit for them.

    NORTHEAST DIVISION
    Montreal
    Ottawa
    Toronto
    Buffalo
    Boston

    – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Already the current division.

    ATLANTIC DIVISION
    NY Islanders
    NY Rangers
    New Jersey
    Pittsburgh
    Philadelphia

    – Same as Northeast division. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    *Eastern Conference is basically the same except, Atlanta (assuming they move to Winnipeg) trade conferences with Nashville.

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    MIDWEST DIVISION
    Columbus
    Detroit
    Chicago
    St. Louis
    Minnesota

    -Brings back the mostly the old Norris Division with Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Minnesota (former North Stars in the Norris Division.) Keeps Chicago and Detroit rivalry. Basically swaps out Nashville (who moves to the Eastern Conference) for Minnesota.

    ROCKY MOUNTAIN
    Colorado
    Winnipeg
    Calgary
    Edmonton
    Vancouver

    -Basically swaps out Minnesota for Winnipeg. Creates a nearly all Canadien division which is great for Hockey Night in Canada and 4 of the 5 teams are in the same time zone, which is better than the current Northwest which spans over 3 time zones.

    Pacific
    San Jose
    Los Angeles
    Anaheim
    Phoenix
    Dallas

    -Still keeps 4 out of 5 teams current in the division still in there and adds Vancouver, who also play in the same time zone as Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose.

    As a Wild fan, I would love see them back with Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. Minnesota has no real rivals, and is the only team in the central time zone in the Northwest. Chicago is a 6 hour drive from the Twin Cities. Just about as close as you can get in the Western Conference. St. Louis is 8 hour drive. It makes the most sense to have them with their natural rivals.

  6. floreblack82 - May 16, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Enough with geographical conferences. Go back to the NFL/MLB format…essentially ressurect the Campbell and Prince of Wales Conferences. Mix the West and East teams into different conferences.
    It essentially doesn’t matter who is in what, as long as three original 6’s are in each. My idea:

    Campbell:
    Detroit
    Toronto
    Chicago
    Islanders
    Philadelphia
    Tampa Bay
    Carolina
    San Jose
    Vancouver
    Minnesota
    Colorado
    St. Louis
    Columbus
    L.A.
    New Jersey

    Prince of Wales
    Montreal
    Boston
    NYRangers
    Pittsburgh
    Washington
    Florida
    Nashville
    Atlanta/Winnepeg
    Calgary
    Edmonton
    Anaheim
    Phoenix
    Dallas
    Ottawa
    Buffalo

    • psujay - May 16, 2011 at 11:31 AM

      Was the point of this to break up rivalries?

    • candyman8787 - May 21, 2011 at 3:56 AM

      What? Go “back” to the NFL/MLB format? The NHL was NEVER like that. Even when they had the conferences named Wales and Campbell, they were still geographical. The Wales was eastern teams and the Campbell was western teams.

  7. mdak06 - May 16, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Another possibility …

    Gretzky Conference

    Pacific Division
    Western Division
    Southern Division

    Vancouver
    Edmonton
    Dallas

    San Jose
    Calgary
    Nashville

    Los Angeles
    Winnipeg
    Carolina

    Anaheim
    Minnesota
    Tampa Bay

    Arizona
    Colorado
    Florida

    Orr Conference

    Central Divison
    Northeast Division
    Atlantic Division

    St. Louis
    Toronto
    NY Rangers

    Chicago
    Buffalo
    NY Islanders

    Detroit
    Montreal
    New Jersey

    Columbus
    Ottawa
    Philadelphia

    Pittsburgh
    Boston
    Washington

    I agree that it’d be nice to put Minnesota in with Chicago & St. Louis but unless another team moves west (to Seattle or Portland?) I’m not sure how it’d work.

    • mdak06 - May 16, 2011 at 3:19 PM

      Ooops, screwed up the HTML, reposted correctly below.

  8. mdak06 - May 16, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    Hmm … HTML tags didn’t work … will try again without ‘em …

    *** Gretzky Conference ***

    — Pacific Division —
    Vancouver
    San Jose
    Los Angeles
    Anaheim
    Arizona

    — Western Division —
    Edmonton
    Calgary
    Winnipeg
    Minnesota
    Colorado

    — Southern Division —
    Dallas
    Nashville
    Carolina
    Tampa Bay
    Florida

    *** Orr Conference ***

    — Central Divison —
    St. Louis
    Chicago
    Detroit
    Columbus
    Pittsburgh

    — Northeast Division —
    Toronto
    Buffalo
    Montreal
    Ottawa
    Boston

    — Atlantic Division —
    NY Rangers
    NY Islanders
    New Jersey
    Philadelphia
    Washington

  9. amr71 - May 16, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Jibe, not jive.

    Moving Nashville to the East makes the most geographical sense. They can easily develop rivalries in the Southeast Division.

    In the West: Minnesota to the Central, and Winnipeg to the Northwest. Causes the least upheaval, and presents the opportunity for renewed rivalries between Minnesota and Chicago/Detroit/St. Louis.

  10. capsrockva - May 16, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    I like psujay’s and what a great football mind’s. I think those are the most logical

  11. timothyliao - May 16, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    I have always been a geography freak and cannot stand to see such teams as the Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East. So in turns of pure geography here is how the league should be realigned.

    Northeast
    _________

    Montreal Canadiens
    Boston Bruins
    Ottawa Senators
    Buffalo Sabres
    Pittsburgh Penguins

    Atlantic
    _________

    New York Rangers
    New York Islanders
    New Jersey Devils
    Philadelphia Flyers
    Washington Capitals

    Southeast

    __________

    Carolina Hurricanes
    Florida Panthers
    Nashville Predators
    St. Louis Blues
    Tampa Bay Lightning

    Central Division

    __________

    Dallas Stars
    Detroit Red Wings
    Chicago Blackhawks
    Columbus Blue Jackets
    Minnesota Wild
    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Northwest Division

    ____________

    Calgary Flames
    Colorado Avalanche
    Edmonton Oilers
    Winnipeg Jets

    Pacific Division

    _____________

    Anaheim Ducks
    Los Angeles Kings
    Phoenix Coyotes
    San Jose Sharks
    Vancouver Canucks

    • timothyliao - May 16, 2011 at 7:08 PM

      Sorry I made a boo boo and put Minnesota in Central when it should be in Northwest

    • micklethepickle - May 20, 2011 at 4:51 PM

      I too would prefer having it based around actual geography, if only because regional rivalries are the most fun (Georgia/Florida, Oregon/Oregon State, etc.)… but what the hell is Washington doing in the Atlantic, and ST.LOUIS in the Southeast?! That’s crazy… Blues have so much more history with CHI/DET than with places like TB or FL!

  12. mdak06 - May 17, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Hmmm … If we’re switching some teams around anyway, can we fix another problem while we’re at it?

    The Pacific Division and the Northwest Division each span three time zones. If we’re trying to keep fans watching, it helps to have the games not start at 9 pm local time on TV. Dallas fans really get screwed by the current setup (three of their four division opponents are two hours away). As jsarge99 pointed out, Vancouver belongs in the Pacific division.

    Ideally (IMHO) Minnesota should be with Chicago / St. Louis, Dallas should be with Nashville / SE teams, Washington should be with PA/NJ/NY teams, and no division should span more than two time zones. However, given where teams are now I don’t see how it can work perfectly, but I still think the time zone issue should be addressed.

    If Atlanta moves to Winnipeg, this is what I’d suggest (for now) —
    Vancouver moves to the Pacific division
    Winnipeg joins the Northwest division
    Dallas moves to the Central division
    Nashville moves to the Southeast division (Columbus is better time-zone wise but Nashville makes more sense)

    After Atlanta there may be several more moves in the coming years. Phoenix is a mess, the Islanders desperately need a new arena, Columbus is struggling, and Nashville and Florida are questionable. Kansas City is ready with a brand new arena to move someone in immediately, Hamilton’s got a businessman itching to get a team up there, and Quebec City is willing to put forth the money for a new arena. So I suppose that a major realignment (more than just a few teams), if it’s going to happen, should wait.

    As a sidenote, Dallas has to have the most screwed up sports team division setup for any city. It’s in Central Time, but it’s hockey team division opponents are 3 Pacific, 1 Mountain, baseball team division opponents are 3 Pacific, and football team division opponents are 3 Eastern. Somehow the NBA got it right (all 4 opponents are Central).

  13. candyman8787 - May 21, 2011 at 3:53 AM

    The thing that everybody’s forgetting is the fact that the NHL has promised the Red Wings that they would be the next team to move to the Eastern Conference. Would they go back on their word to an Original 6 team, and the premiere franchise in the sport? I really doubt it. Plus, it would be great for the league to have the Wings playing all the Eastern teams more often. And it would shift the balance of power a bit.

    Yes, it’s not an easy fit geographically. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to break up some existing divisional rivalries. But the teams will still be in the same conference, and they’ll still play multiple times a year. It only makes sense for Detroit to be put in the Northeast division, where the Detroit/Toronto rivalry can regain its status among the league’s best. Then either Buffalo or Boston goes to the Atlantic Division…Boston makes more sense geographically, but Buffalo is suitable if you don’t want to break up Boston’s rivalries. And then Pittsburgh goes to the Southeast Division. It’s not a great fit, but the only other options are the Flyers or Devils…and remember, Pittsburgh’s only been in that division since the last realignment. Philly, New Jersey, and both New York teams have been in the same division as long as they’ve been in the league together. Plus, Pittsburgh/Washington is a solid intradivisional rivalry that could really take off if they’re in the same division.

    The West is easier. Winnipeg goes into the Northwest division, and then you have two choices: either Minnesota takes Detroit’s place in the Central, or Vancouver switches to the Pacific Division and then Dallas takes Detroit’s place in the Central. The first one would make more sense for rivalries and continuity, but the second would make more geographical sense.

    Another thing to consider is the fate of the Phoenix Coyotes. The NHL should wait until they figure out what’s going to happen with them before they make a final decision on realignment, because you don’t want Detroit going to the Eastern Conference for a year only to see the Coyotes move to Hamilton and then the Wings have to go back to the West.

  14. whatagreatfootballmind - May 22, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    NHL has all but assued Minnesota will be in the central with Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago…eventually. Most likely after next season.

  15. scotthought - May 26, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    http://scotthoughts1.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-wsjs-division-realignment-plan-and.html Not a big fan of the Wall Street Journal proposal

  16. designatedsitter1 - May 31, 2011 at 10:38 PM

    A workable alignment, done completely by time zone:

    East:
    Atlantic: NYI, NYR, NJ, Phi, Was, Car, TB, Fla
    Northeast: Bos, Mon, Ott, Buf, Tor, Det, Clb, Pit

    West:
    Central: Chi, Min, Win, StL, Nas, Dal, Col
    Pacific: Edm, Cal, Van, Pho, Ana, LA, SJ

    It’s 16/14, so the conferences are unequal, but 1) in the past they’ve done 14/12 (for a little while in the 90’s) and 2) the Western teams would still have farther than Eastern teams to travel for interdivision games than the Eastern teams, a disadvantage that would be mitigated by a slightly higher mathematical chance at a Finals appearance.

  17. designatedsitter1 - Jun 1, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    If they want to give every team a similar travel schedule, here is a reasonable way to do it:

    International Conference:
    East: Mon, Bos, Ott, Buf, Tor
    Central: Pit, Clb, Det, Chi, StL
    West: Min, Win, Edm, Cal, Van

    American Conference:
    East: NYI, NYR, NJ, Phi, Was
    Central: Car, TB, Fla, Nas, Dal
    West: Col, Pho, Ana, LA, SJ

    Yes, Min is still with Van, but that’s the only instance of a team being separated by more than one time zone from a division rival. Min’s situation does improve though, getting the Central time-zone Win in place fo the Mountain time-zone Col.

    This alignment also spreads the marketing power of Crosby and Ovechkin over both conferences and sets up the possibility of their meeting in the Finals, which would be a boon for the league.

  18. hockeyfan81 - Jun 19, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    While everyone is throwing out their ideas for NHL realignment, I figure one more off the wall idea won’t hurt. Why not have just ONE conference and we’ll call it The National Hockey League. It would have five divisions of six teams each:

    Atlantic division: Boston, Montreal, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, and Philadelphia.
    Southeast division: Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay, and Washington.
    Great Lakes division: Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
    Central division: Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Phoenix, St. Louis, and Winnipeg.
    Pacific division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Vancouver.

    In the regular season, each team would play 34 divisional games (7, 7, 7, 7, 6) while playing each non divisional rival twice in a home and home series (48 games) creating a more balanced travel schedule for teams since everyone will have to travel everywhere outside their division and play more games inside their own.
    There would be only two time zones in each division (except Phoenix for a month) making it easier for travel and for fans to catch divisional games on TV.
    The “original six” would be split evenly between two divisions maintaining and re-establishing those rivalries.
    Sixteen teams with the best records would qualify for the playoffs; five division winners seeded one thru five. And eleven non division winners seeded six thru sixteen making the regular season even more important for home ice in the playoffs (Q: how many teams in the past five seasons have missed the playoffs with better records than playoff bound teams in the other conference? A: eight teams, Colorado 07, Carolina 08, Florida 09, St. Louis & Anaheim & Calgary 10, and Dallas & Calgary 11) and no one would have a travel advantage in the playoffs (as the East teams have now) since any two teams could end up playing each other.
    And my favorite: Any two teams could face off in the Stanly Cup Final, Boston-Montreal, Calgary-Edmonton, Chicago-Detroit…etc.

    • hockeyfan81 - Jun 19, 2011 at 10:51 AM

      Obviously I meant: no more than two time zones per division

    • goofyreyrey - Jun 24, 2011 at 3:33 AM

      This idea actually has some merit. Makes the regular season mean more, owners save money on travel, rivalries maintained, and the top 2 overall teams could make it to the Stanley cup final. I like it!!!!

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