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Report: Major realignment coming to NHL next season

Jun 25, 2011, 4:02 PM EDT


Things are going to look odd this year with Winnipeg playing in the Southeast Division and the Red Wings and Blue Jackets continuing to play in the Eastern time zone while existing in the Western Conference. Those days may be long over after this season, however, as it’s being reported by The Sporting News’ Craig Custance that major realignment is on the way to the NHL next season.

With Winnipeg in the Southeast and three teams in Columbus, Detroit, and Nashville itching to get out of the Western Conference and into the Eastern Conference, something’s got to give to help make sense of things for all the teams and help normalize things. Custance talked with an unnamed NHL executive who said that things will break down in a most fascinating way.

“The fact remains that there are three teams that should be in the East that are in the West,” the executive said. “The only way you can make everybody happy is by restructuring the whole thing. That’s what they’re working on.”

The leading plan calls for the league to be divided into four divisions — two with eight teams and two with seven teams. The plan is expected to be finalized during the December Board of Governers meetings.

Huh, four divisions you say? Two with seven teams? Say, there’s seven Canadian teams in the NHL once again with Winnipeg back in the mix. That wouldn’t be too obvious, right?

This kind of set up also makes us think back to when the divisions had legendary names like Patrick, Adams, Norris, and Smythe and they played in the Campbell and Wales Conferences. With throwbacks being all the rage, especially with Winnipeg going by the Jets once again, it’d be fascinating to see things shake down like that again. It’s doubtful but you never know.

What will be most interesting is how they’ll breakdown the playoffs out of this setup. Another throwback idea could involve the NHL bringing back the divisional playoffs that see the top four teams in each division make the postseason and then face off tournament style against each other like the NHL used to do in the 1980s.

In that format the division leader would face the fourth place team and the second and third place teams would battle to face each other in the divisional finals. The winners of the divisional playoffs would then square off in the conference finals and then on to the Stanley Cup finals. With rumors of a balanced schedule coming back, settling things out this way would again make sense because then every team is playing each other evenly.

That much is far off and with the possibility of the new alignment being worked out at the December Board of Governors meeting we’ll have something figured out soon enough. For now, it’s time for everyone to get creative with how they think things will end up being broken down. Do we see a resurrection of the Norris Division? Will we get an all-Canada division? How about the return of the Patrick Division where you get Washington and Pittsburgh joining the Flyers, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils? Good lord.  Give it your best shot in the comments to figure things out.

  1. theolgoaler - Jun 25, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Fughettaboud an all-Canadian division; Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa don’t want to have to make lots of trips to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Neither Columbus nor Detroit really fit in with the Southeast — Nashville is in the Central time zone, making them less attractive to East Coast clubs. Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, and Dallas are all Central Time teams; Phoenix is on Mountain Time, while LA, Anaheim, San Jose (and Vancouver) are Pacific Time teams. If the goal is to have as many 7:00 PM “local” puck-drops as possible, the NHL would send Detroit or Columbus to the East — but whichever team stayed in the West would have lots of “late” road games, depressing TV viewership. Detroit would seem to be able to weather that particular storm better than Columbus… but I’m sure the four other “Original Six” teams in the East would prefer having the Red Wings as a gate-attraction/TV-attraction in that conference.

  2. donttouchthedirtypenny - Jun 25, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    There might be three Western teams that should be East, but only one Eastern team that should be West. So, someone (prob Det and CBJ) will be stuck in the West. I like 4 divisions. I was never a fan of 3 division winners taking spots 1-3 in the playoffs and it also make for a boring, imbalanced regular season schedule.

  3. nickterryo1 - Jun 25, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    What? No more Boston-Montreal rivalry?
    Can’t happen.

  4. whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 26, 2011 at 1:05 AM

    Let’s face it, no matter how you realign the divisions, somebody will not be happy. But thinking about it and looking at it, the 2 divisions with 7 and 8 teams in each conference does make sense.

    Smythe Division
    1 Vancouver
    2 Calgary
    3 Edmonton
    4 Los Angeles
    5 Anaheim
    6 San Jose
    7 Colorado
    8 Phoenix

    This division only spans 2 time zones are the 8 furthest west teams in the league. You could make a case for Colorado to join the other division, but then that division would span across 3 time zones. 8 teams in this division seems to work well. Keeps rivalies with Edmonton, Colorado, Vancouver, and Calgary. Keeps rivalries with Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles.

    Norris Division
    1 Dallas
    2 Minnesota
    3 Winnipeg
    4 St. Louis
    5 Chicago
    6 Nashville
    7 Detroit

    This puts both teams Minnesota and Dallas who both want out of their current divisions they both want out of. Sets up a natural Minnesota/Dallas rivalary (remember North Stars?). Puts back the old Norris Division with Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Winnipeg. Keeps Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis all together.

    Adams Division
    1 New Jersey
    2 New York Rangers
    3 New York Islanders
    4 Buffalo
    5 Toronto
    6 Ottawa
    7 Montreal
    8 Boston

    This keeps all northeast canadian teams in one division and keeps the New York/New Jersey markets all together and also puts all New York State teams in one division.

    Patrick Division
    1 Florida
    2 Tampa Bay
    3 Carolina
    4 Washington
    5 Pittsburgh
    6 Philadelphia
    7 Columbus

    This keeps the 4 remaining teams from the southeast division in one division. Keeps Pittsburgh and Philadelphia together in the same division. With Atlanta moving the 2 Florida teams have to be placed somewhere and keeping them with the 2 other southeast division makes the most logical sense.

    • whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 26, 2011 at 2:26 AM

      Final Standing would look like this

      Smythe Division
      Vancouver 117
      San Jose 105
      Anaheim 99
      Phoenix 99
      Los Angeles 98
      Calgary 94
      Colorado 68
      Edmonton 62

      Round 1 of the playoffs would have Vancouver vs Phoenix and San Jose vs Anaheim with the 2 winners meeting for the Smythe Division Championship

      Detroit 104
      Nashville 99
      Chicago 97
      Dallas 95
      St. Louis 87
      Minnesota 86
      Winnipeg 80

      Round 1 of the playoffs would have Detroit vs Dallas and Nashville vs Chicago.
      winners play in the Norris Division Championship.

      Norris Division Champion vs Smythe Division Champion for the Campbell Conference Finals

      boston 103
      montreal 96
      buffalo 96
      rangers 93
      toronto 85
      new jersey 81
      ottawa 74
      islanders 73

      Round 1 of the playoffs Boston vs NY Rangers and Montreal vs Buffalo
      Winners play for the Adams Division Championship

      washington 107
      pittsburgh 106
      phildelphia 106
      tampa 103
      carolina 91
      columbus 81
      florida 72

      Round 1 of the playoffs Washington vs Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia
      Winners meet for the Patrick Division Championship

      Patrick Division Champions vs Adams Divison Champions in the Whales Conference Finals

      Price of Whales Champion vs Clarence Campbell Champion for the Cup…


      But to have a balanced schedule like they are talking about they will have to change the schedule from 82 games to 86 games. Each team plays 30 games vs the other conference (1 games each home and away) and 56 games (2 home and 2 away) vs each conference team. Let’s face it, the NHL will want to have Sidney Crosby’s, Alex Ovechkin’s, and Steven Stamkos’ visiting each city in the Campbell Conference (West coast) at least once and the Sedin Sisters (sorry Wild fan here), Heatley’s, and Nash’s to play the Whales (East coast) teams once a year. NHL wants a balanced schedule so they will not play 3 games vs each conference and they definately won’t cut down to 2, so 4 games 2 home and 2 away would have to be it. Let’s face it the NHL owners won’t cut the number of games down either and lose that revenue. 86 games and please for the love of God, go back to the 5:00 overtimes and either award 2 points for a win or 1 point for a tie. It is ridicilous that any team can be award a point for any kind of loss.

    • ml3939 - Jun 26, 2011 at 12:43 PM

      It sounds good in theory but you are really losing some natural rivalries. Jersey-Philly-Pitt-NYR are some of the best rivalries in hockey that you will be breaking up. No other division would be losing rivalries of that magnitude. I understand the premise of keeping teams of the same geographic areas together but travel up and down the east coast is not a big deal when teams are flying. Philly-NYR-NJ are train trips for the teams. To not have a Philly-NYR would be a joke.

      When the NFL re-aligned they left Dallas with 3 East Coast rivals. Certain teams just go together.

  5. islandersfan - Jun 26, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    Putting aside the debate of which teams in a 4 division alignment get put together I love the idea of going back to division rivals playing against each other in the playoffs as suggested. Nothing breeds contempt like familiarity and history.

    • whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 26, 2011 at 1:49 AM

      I do too, anything can happen based on your familiarity with your opponent. Look no further than the 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars. They had the 6th worst record in the league, and only made the playoffs because they finished ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs in their division. They caught fire and took down the President Trophy (NHL’s regular season point winner) Chicago Blackhawks with Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, etc in 6 games, took down the St. Louis Blues who finsihed 1 point behind Chicago with Brett Hull and Adam Oates. Then beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers in 6 and finally ran out of gas and got figured out by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who trailed the North Stars 2 games to 1. A run like that is no longer out of the question since we have seen Anaheim as a 7 seed and Edmonton as an 8 seed go to the Cup Finals, but it makes for way better intense rivalries. Love it!

  6. demons87 - Jun 26, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    I’d be real excited for a return to the divisional playoffs. it’s the best way to build divisional rivalries. I grew up in Boston hating the Habs, Sabres, Nords and Whalers because we always had to face one of them in the playoffs. I now live in Tampa where the Lightning have no real rival. No team the fans really hate. It’s because in 20 years they have only played one of their divisional rivals in the playoffs. You begin to hate teams when they end your season.

    • whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 26, 2011 at 2:32 AM

      As a Wild fan I can relate. Wild’s second year Jason Marshall gets sucker punched by a Canuck player and then the following year they meet in the 2nd round and the rivalry is on. Colorado grew into a rival after beating them in the playoffs that same year and then meeting them again in the playoffs a few years later.

      The old days had the best rivalries. Minnesota and Chicago. Minnesota and St. Louis. Detroit and St Louis. Detroit and St. Louis games would have made the Colorado/Detroit rivalary in the late 90’s early 2000’s look like they were best friends hanging out having a beer. Both the Wings and Blues penalty boxes would be standing room only with 5 players in there like sardins in a can.

      If they do this, and with the NHL’s new deal with Versus and NBC with every playoff game on television starting this year, the NHL playoffs would be better than they already are and will easily grow the game above and beyond where it was in its hayday. Damn, will Bettman do something good for the sport???

  7. donttouchthedirtypenny - Jun 26, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    As far as playoffs go, I’m not a fan of divisional matchups. You’ll have too many teams with better records being left out for lesser teams. I like the late 70s to early 80s format where the top 8 from each conference were seeded 1-16 with no regard to East/West. There were some interesting matchups in the first round and you were guaranteed the top two teams met in the Final (as opposed to one Conf Final bring the de-facto championship). Add to that the fact that you could have conference or divisional rivalries meet in the Final (’79 Montreal – NY Rangers, ’80 NY Islanders – Philadelphia), you had a real winner.

  8. hockeyfan81 - Jun 26, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    I like the fact that people are expressing their ideas for NHL realignment; I’ve seen three 10 team conferences with a bizarre finals set up, several different two conference scenarios…etc. But I don’t understand why in general we seem to be fixated on the Two conference model. 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) which would help cut back on expenses. 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. It would also give fans the opportunity to see their team host all other teams every year.
    There would be a maximum of two time zones in all divisions (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 (which should be the best two teams in the LEAGUE playing against each other. Not just the best of 15 teams playing the best of a different 15 teams.) We could potentially end up with great “rivalry” finals that we could never see under the current system: Boston-Montreal, Calgary-Edmonton, Chicago-Detroit, Montreal-Toronto, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh……
    Any thoughts??

    • whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 26, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      Nice idea but the NHL wants a balanced schedule. Having per say the Wild play Columbus 6 times 3 home/away, then Dallas 7 times 4 home/3 away, Detroit 7 times 3 home/4 away while Detroit gets the opposite doesn’t scream balanced. Do you think teams who make money pass up the chance to make an extra 2 million + for 2 more home games? This also gives teams like Florida and Phoenix who struggle attendance wise 2 more games to get a few more dollars so they don’t lose as much money doesn’t hurt either. Maybe it helps Phoenix stay in Phoenix and gives Florida a better chance to stay in Sunrise. When it comes down to it money trumps everything. More games = more money. Owners make more, league gets balanced schedule, league revenues go up which means higher salary cap players draw from. Everybody wins on 86 game schedule.

    • capsrockva - Jun 26, 2011 at 11:47 AM

      I like this one the best

  9. daveydawg - Jun 26, 2011 at 7:33 AM

    YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES….. Been waiting for news like this since they changed everything to begin with.

  10. kingjoe1 - Jun 26, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    Did i miss a class in geography? The realignment is being bandied about in part because of the ATL to Winnipeg move. That is based on timezone and amount of travel which is needed to play in the SE division. So with that, how did Canada suddenly become close-knit community? MOntreal to Edmonton, that isnt exactly, Philly to Boston.

  11. tommytd - Jun 26, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Count on this much…going forward, it won’t matter what fans prefer. Now that the NHL and Comcast have a new 10 year television deal, any NHL realignment will be based upon television/cable revenues and what is in the best financial interests of Comcast. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the NFL now and try to figure out when games are played now. TV networks/cable drive the decision making now. What we as fans would like to see has no bearing on anything, other than what their overnight ratings book looks like.

  12. 50milessouthofdetroit - Jun 26, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    there are 16 teams in the eastern time zone and they want 2 8-team divisions and 2 7-team divisions. that math is easy so try this. One “eastern” division could be Montreal, Boston, Ottawa, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo, and Toronto. the other is Washington, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Columbus, and Florida. Now you match either of those two with one of these two “western” divisions. Chicago, Minnesota, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado, and Winnipeg. the other is Nashville, St Louis, Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose, Dallas, and Los Angeles. with this plan, a lot of rivalries are kept in tact, while some are not. but to keep fairness for the entire league as far as travel concerns are concerned, each “conference” would have an “east” and “west” division

  13. whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 26, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    that’s not going to happen. you have both minnesota and dallas, both of who are trying to get out of their current divisions they are in now. wild owner has already said the wild will be in the central after this season. what the central is after this year is anybody’s guess, if it’s 7 or 8 teams or the current 5 is anybody’s guess.

  14. capsrockva - Jun 28, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    I say move Det & Col to the east. base divisions on time zones NE leave it alone. ATL rename the division & add either DET or Columbus. SE same or add Columbus. For the Western Conf. Central- DAL/NAS/MIN/WIN/CHI/ST Louis. Rename the NW division the Mountain Division PHX/COL/CAL/EDM Pacific SAN JOSE/ANI/LA/VA and maybe a Seattle/Oregon team (which either the ST Louis blues moves or the FL Panthers) based on reports. Now if either of the two mentioned teams moved to KC they would have to go into the central and then we’d be having this discussion again next year

  15. farmgirl19c - Jul 1, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    The AHL is set up this way now. It’s a mess! For the playoffs, the top 4 teams in each division make the playoffs, except when the 5th place team in the larger division has more points than the 4th place team in the smaller division, then there’s a crossover. Your team make 4th place? Doesn’t matter, you’re screwed. It’s a nightmare. There’s not a thing wrong with the way the NHL is now. Just because Detroit wants to be in the East is not a reason for wholesale change.

  16. farmgirl19c - Jul 1, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    It’s sucks for the fans, but since when has Uncle Gary ever given a hoot about the fans?

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