Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Potential NHL Realignment Signals Dumb Ideas

There are multiple reasons for people to get all happy about the potential return of the NHL to Winnipeg.

Besides the obvious, we also have an opportunity for writers and bloggers and broadcasters and fans to speculate about the potential division realignments that we could see as a result.

(Unless the NHL decides to make like the NFL and go with Winnipeg/Manitoba in the Southeast Division for a few years. Remember the NFC West that included Atlanta, and the Phoenix Cardinals in the NFC East?)

There are a lot of realignment posts out there on the internet for you to see. Some of them are sensical, and others seem to miss the point of drawing up divisions.

Via Puck Daddy, we have an example.

The Count computed the optimal NHL alignment, based on which scenario would provide the shortest average intradivisional road trips, mileage-wise. Naturally, Winnipeg wound up in the Northwest Division with Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver. Nashville would be the best geographic fit for the East, even though, unlike Columbus or Detroit, it's in the Central time zone. Dallas should join Detroit in the Central, and Boston and Pittsburgh should also switch divisions.

Glance at this, and it seems okay.

Then read the last sentence, specifically the final seven words.

"Boston and Pittsburgh should also switch divisions."

That would put Pittsburgh in the Northeast with Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. I'm sure none of them would object to having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their division, at least from a standpoint of attendance and overall interest.

However, you just took Boston out of Montreal's division. And you took Pittsburgh out of Philadelphia's division.

That might be the worst idea ever, akin to drawing up an NFL realignment that separates Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota. Or Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Or Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, and the Giants. Or Atlanta and New Orleans. Or Denver and Oakland.

Why would anyone want to do this?

Elliotte Friedman has some good points.

Three factors will be taken into account: travel; how many time zones will be involved in any new conferences/divisions; and how rivalries will be impacted. That last factor may be the most important. For example, when Washington was moved out of the old Patrick, the organization felt it was heavily damaged for years by losing head-to-heads with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

(That's yet another reason Detroit faces such a fight to move East on its own. There is a resistance to lessening the Red Wings/Blackhawks rivalry.)

I do believe the NHL would like to try and make things easier for the likes of Detroit and Columbus (the only Eastern Time teams in the West), of Dallas (which is isolated with no one in its time zone) and of Minnesota (which doesn't want to end up the lone American-based team with Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg). That's why it would be narrow-minded to look at this solely as an East/West situation.

Yes, there will be a suggestion to split the league into three 10-team conferences going across North America. But, there will be other proposals, too. How about a realignment among North/South lines? Don't be surprised if some U.S./Western Canadian teams push for an All-Canada Division.

The bottom line: Everything is up for debate, including the playoff structure.

(His CBC columns, by the way, are a MUST read for hockey fans.)

Wait, the playoff structure?

Yes, the playoff structure.

Here's the first question that perked my ears up (and I apologize if this isn't exactly the correct wording of the question - I didn't think to take screenshots):

"Currently, the playoffs involve divisional champions in each conference given a 1, 2, or 3 seed. If seeding were changed to be determined solely by points, would you still have the same interest?"

That's nothing, however, compared to the OTHER question that followed it:

"Currently, the playoff format has teams seeded in the Eastern and Western conferences, 1-8, facing each other, before the Stanley Cup Final pits the winner of the East vs. the winner of the West. If the playoffs instead seeded the top teams from each conference 1-16 by points, regardless of conference, would you still have interest?"

Honestly, anyone could see this coming. It's a talking point anytime a team seeded No. 4 in a conference has more points than a division winner.

But as I've said before, it's not a good idea to change it, unless the league in question is prepared to balance out the schedule to make it so everyone is playing the same number of games against all potential opponents. I don't see any leagues -- including the NBA, which went to this system not too many years ago when David Stern got tired of everyone whining -- working to strike what I feel is a necessary balance.

Don't look for it anytime soon, either.

The most sensible realignment plan I've seen is as follows:

Nashville moves to the Southeast, Winnipeg/Manitoba to the Northwest. Minnesota leaves the Northwest and takes Nashville's spot in the Central. No other changes.

Obviously, things could really be thrown for a loop if Phoenix leaves.

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