Hooked On Hockey Magazine

How the Future NHL Expansion with Realignment Should Look

With two NHL expansion bids submitted by ownership groups in Las Vegas and Quebec City, the NHL faces a bit of a divisional alignment issue if both cities succeed in being awarded a franchise. In a 32-team NHL, geographically you would have seventeen teams in the East and fifteen in the west. Gary Bettman recently said that a Quebec team could have to play in the West (which makes totally sense since they would be the team furthest East geographically of the 32 teams) to keep the balance. Since neither Detroit nor Columbus would want to go back in to the West in a four or six division alignment, the NHL would have to get creative in order to make this work. Taking a page from the NFL’s book, the NHL could realign to eight divisions, with four divisions in a conference. This is how the schedule would work:

-Division Opponents six times each (18 games – 9 home and 9 away)

-Other Conference opponents twice (home and home) each (32 games)

-Two of the divisions in your conference you play all four teams three times each (24 games), one of the divisions you play twice each (8 games). The division where you only place twice each would rotate among the other two remaining divisions season to season.

-The four division winners are guaranteed a playoff spot (not necessarily home ice), four wild cards, seeding done by total points overall but set up in a bracket (only so the NHL doesn’t lose it’s “Bracket Challenge”, personally I like reseeding).

The below isn’t perfect, but here is how I would align the eight divisions with geography and rivalries being the priorities:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CANADA WEST

Calgary

Winnipeg

Vancouver

Edmonton

-Despite traversing three time zones, this would guarantee at least one Canadian team in the Western Conference playoffs every year. Having these four teams together would intensify some already heated rivalries. Rogers certainly wouldn’t mind more games between the Canadian based-franchises.

Inside the Las Vegas arena currently under construction. This would be the home of a Las Vegas-based expansion team. (CBC.ca)

PACIFIC

Anaheim

Los Angeles

San Jose

-Las Vegas

-Anaheim, LA, and San Jose all need to be in the same division. Putting Las Vegas in the same division makes sense geographically. Kings and Ducks fans could make the four-five hour road trip to Sin City and vice versa for those divisional games.

MOUNTAIN

St. Louis

Dallas

Colorado

Arizona

-This takes the three most western teams of the current Central Division and joins them with the leftover Coyotes. Considering only two of these teams play in what’s considered a mountainous region, there’s probably a better name for this division.

Under this realignment plan, the Blackhawks and Red Wings would be division rivals again. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

CENTRAL

Chicago

Minnesota

-Detroit

Nashville

-Chicago, Minnesota and Nashville being in the same division is nothing new, but bringing Detroit back in to the West is. The Red Wings wanted out of the West for a long time (for good reason – travel, too many late road games for fans to watch back East, etc), but with the new alignment, Detroit would have 69 of their games in the Eastern or Central time zone, leaving 13 games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. A team playing an Eastern Conference schedule would have nine, so there’s not much of a difference. Plus this would give us Blackhawks-Red Wings six times a year instead of twice.

Putting Montreal & Quebec would restore one of the more hated rivalries the NHL has ever seen. (canadiens.nhl.com)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CANADA EAST

Montreal

Ottawa

Toronto

-Quebec

-Reread the capsule about Canada West and apply it here. Bringing back the missed Montreal-Quebec rivalry alone is worth putting these teams together in a division.

SOUTHEAST

Tampa Bay

Washington

Florida

Carolina

-This reunites the old Southeast Division minus the Atlanta Thrashers.

ATLANTIC

NY Rangers

NY Islanders

New Jersey

Boston

-Both New York franchises and New Jersey are way too close to not have in the same division. I’d like to put Philadelphia in this division, but that would mean separating them for the Penguins, and nobody wants to do that. Boston unfortunately gets separated from some of their top rivals, but get to rekindle an old rivalry with the Rangers (in the other three major professional sports, New York and Boston share a division). Keeping Philly out of this division would eliminate the unfair advantage of this being the only division where all four teams are within a two-three hour drive of one another

NORTHEAST

Pittsburgh

Philadelphia

-Columbus

Buffalo

-The Penguins, Flyers and Blue Jackets are remnants of the Metropolitan Division. Keeping Philly and Pittsburgh together means six installments of the Keystone State rivalry each season. Buffalo is the abandoned team from the old Atlantic, but fits right in geographically with the other three teams.

I'm a seasoned veteran in the sports media field and a lifelong Rangers fan (hoping to relive 1994 at some point - I couldn't fully appreciate a championship at 11 years old). Hockey dominates my life for the most part: I also root for the Blackhawks & Kings, I've been lucky enough to split season tickets for the Blueshirts with a good friend since the lockout, and I'm a defenseman on a local roller hockey team. Away from the rink, I enjoy hiking, hard rock music, and spending time with my dog Astro.
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