Realignment Done Right, Revisited

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a Fanpost with a proposal for realignment.  Now that the Thrashers' move to Winnipeg has forced the NHL's hand, and the league has disclosed that it is looking into having four divisions again, I thought it might make sense to take a second look.

Here were my guiding principles:

I believe the biggest problem with the current setup (apart from losing those historic names) is that many natural rivalries have been broken up -- some before they were ever allowed to get started.  My philosophy is that cities that have something in common should be together in the same division, whenever possible.  As a Caps fan, I am obviously particularly sensitive to this.  Good rivalries should be the #1 consideration in any divisional structure.

But rivalries are not the only consideration.  Travel is not just very expensive -- it's a competitive concern.  Western Conference teams spend many more days on the road and many more hours in the air than Eastern Conference teams, and these extra burdens can have an effect on the standings. 


And here was my proposal, now with Winnipeg now in place of Atlanta:

Campbell Conference

Prince of Wales Conference





Anaheim Ducks

Carolina Hurricanes

Florida Panthers

Boston Bruins

Calgary Flames

Chicago Blackhawks

New Jersey Devils

Buffalo Sabres

Edmonton Oilers

Colorado Avalanche

New York Rangers

Columbus Blue Jackets

Los Angeles Kings

Dallas Stars

New York Islanders

Detroit Red Wings

Phoenix Coyotes

Minnesota Wild

Philadelphia Flyers

Montreal Canadiens

San Jose Sharks

Nashville Predators

Pittsburgh Penguins

Ottawa Senators

Vancouver Canucks

St. Louis Blues

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Winnipeg Jets

Washington Capitals

There is one other change:  after realizing that the first letter of the traditional division names could also match their geographical descriptions, I rearranged those names as you see here.  It'd be strange for the Caps to be in the Adams division, but it's not like they were always in the Patrick division back when the divisions had proper names.  And if it makes things more accessible for new fans, I think it's a small price to pay.

Here's the visual version of this plan



Credit goes to What Juneau About That for the awesome mapAnd those bonus logos belong to the most likely candidates for expansion:  Quebec City, Greater Toronto/Hamilton, Kansas City, Vegas, and the Pacific Northwest.

Here's my thinking, division by division (drawing heavily from the original Fanpost):

Prince of Wales Conference

The new Adams division should of course look familiar.  It's the old Patrick division, except that the Florida teams have been added.  I don't have to sell this audience on the importance of re-grouping the mid-Atlantic region into one division.  The number one "a-ha! moment" I had when putting this together was when it occurred to me that in many ways the Florida cities share more in common culturally with the mid-Atlantic than with cities like Nashville, Dallas, and Raleigh.  That made everything come together, because (1) I wanted Nashville-Carolina-Dallas together; (2) Dallas had to be in the Campbell Conference for travel logistics reasons, and (3) you just can't put Vancouver and Miami in the same conference.  The solution was to split Florida and Tampa from the rest of the southern USA teams, and to group them with New York and the rest of the mid-Atlantic region.

The new Norris was built to reestablish natural rivalries.  We've all lived with Detroit in the West so long, it probably seems normal.  But if you drive due south from Detroit across the Ambassador Bridge, you end up in Windsor, Ontario.  Historically, Detroit as a hockey town was more closely aligned with Toronto than Chicago.  And Toronto-Buffalo-Boston-Montreal-Ottawa are such a good set of natural rivalries, they can't be broken apart.

I also made sure to leave an opening in the Norris for a new team.  Whether it's Quebec City or a team near Toronto, when the NHL next expands, I expect it to add a team in the Northeast.

Campbell Conference

There simply has to be a far west division.  It's the only way to make travel make sense.  So there's not much to be said about the new Patrick.  The Battle of Alberta is perhaps the best rivalry in hockey, and it's preserved, but it's hard to come up with a realignment that doesn't preserve that rivalry. Likewise the California rivalries.

The new Smythe is born from my belief that (1) Nashville-Carolina-Dallas and (2) Chicago-Winnipeg-Minnesota-St. Louis are each natural rivalries that need to happen.  Today, the southern teams aren't just in different divisions -- they're in different conferences.  And the same goes for the Midwestern teams, at least as long as Winnipeg is in the Eastern Conference. The easiest way to build these natural rivalries is to put them together in one division.  Sure, it's odd to have Carolina and Winnipeg in the same division, but one Eastern team needs to be in the West to make the numbers work out.  Putting Carolina with its natural cultural rivals Nashville and Dallas should make the extra travel worth it.  The other options are Detroit or Columbus, and there's no good reason to put either of them in the Campbell.  So sure, Vancouver and Carolina are in the same conference.  But there's a real benefit in terms of rivalries, and Carolina just isn't that much further than Detroit or Columbus would be.

Colorado is a swing team, and could fit in either the Patrick or the Smythe.  If the next team added to the Campbell conference is in Kansas City, then Colorado shifts to the Patrick.  If it's in Vegas or the Pacific Northwest, then Colorado stays in the Smythe.

* * *

So there you have it.  Lots of folks are trying their hardest to work out a way to group Detroit and Columbus with their natural rivals in the east.  Folks are even talking about having unbalanced conferences, one with 16 teams and the other with 14.  Apart from the competitive issues that raises, I think that's a terrible idea because the next expansion is likely to include one team in the east and another in the west.  I realize it's unconventional to put Carolina in the "western" conference, but once you see how it makes everything else work out, I think it is worth it.

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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