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Holy crap, the realignment ‘rumor’ is true

Per Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika, the NHL really does plan on drastically realigning its divisions and conferences:

NHL exec said to expect dramatic realignment in 2012-13. Four time-zone based divisions, two with eight teams, two with seven.
...
Board of governors to discuss realignment at December meeting.

As a Red Wings fan, I’ll say it: “Yes, please.”

Update: The Sporting News’s Craig Custance confirms that the league’s seriously thinking about making a major shift:

“There will be. I can guarantee you. It will be more dramatic,” an NHL executive told Sporting News on Saturday. “It will be realignment of the whole league. It will be a different format. I think it’ll please a lot of people.”

There are currently three Western Conference teams—Detroit, Nashville and Columbus—that would like to move East and a restructuring of the NHL may satisfy that demand.

“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.

“I’m just happy we’re discussing it. Maybe there’s a way for Detroit and Columbus to get in the East,” said Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. “I’m glad we’re all open to it. We’ll see where it all goes.”

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Comments

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I actually thought that the prospect of realignment was a bit more realistic than some…but if this does in fact happen…“Yes, please too!”

Posted by godblender on 06/25/11 at 04:08 PM ET

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Four time-zone based divisions

In a way though this seems to be a concept that makes a bit too much sense for NHL brass to consider it. I’ll remain cautiously optimistic. As a bleeding-heart pessimist, that’s saying something.

Posted by godblender on 06/25/11 at 04:11 PM ET

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Uneven divisions is unfair.

Posted by Paul from NJ on 06/25/11 at 04:16 PM ET

SK77's avatar

Uneven divisions isn’t unfair if they simply seed the playoffs with teams with the best record, after giving the #1-4 spots to the division winners.

As for how they’re going to break this up, I just started at a map for 5 minutes and got nowhere. West coast is easy and depending on whether or not Colorado makes it in that’s a 7 or 8 team conference. You could make another 7 team conference in the midwest if they brought in Colorado, Winnipeg, etc. But out east, who knows. Should be interesting to say the least.

Posted by SK77 on 06/25/11 at 04:20 PM ET

Baroque's avatar

It makes sense to wait until after next season. Phoenix might have to relocate at that time, and it would have been silly to realign for the Jets and then need to do it all over again if Phoenix moves.

I still doubt that Detroit makes it into the Eastern time zone. Two 8-team divisions in the East means they only pick up one net team - Nashville and Columbus would take care of that requirement, leaving Detroit in the same 7-team grouping as Chicago.

I remain skeptical that it will be any better than the current arrangement.

Posted by Baroque from Michigan on 06/25/11 at 04:20 PM ET

SK77's avatar

Anyone else want to play?

Posted by SK77 on 06/25/11 at 04:35 PM ET

UMFan's avatar

I guess then that the Phoenix situation will be solved. Then again it would be modus operandi for the league to make up the new divisions and have the Coyotes move somewhere east.

Posted by UMFan from Denver, Colorado on 06/25/11 at 04:37 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Posted by some kid on 06/25/11 at 03:35 PM ET

Man, what a boring Central division would that be.  At least it would give the Blue Jackets a better shot at making the playoffs.

Still, geographically, it makes sense.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 06/25/11 at 04:38 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Eh, if Phoenix moved, it would likely be to one of the seven-team conferences so they wouldn’t have to realign.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 06/25/11 at 04:39 PM ET

SK77's avatar

I wish Phoenix would move to Portland—it’s already a great hockey town and it seems like an NHL team would do great there since there’s only the Jailblazers and Ducks/Beavers to compete with, in an area that loves its sports.

You’re right though, the Central is a total snoozefest in that map. You could move Colorado over to a central-based division though, which would open up other possibilities out east. It definitely looks like some traditional rivalries might get broken up, but if they balance the schedule so everyone plays everyone at least home and home every year, then what’s the big deal?

Posted by SK77 on 06/25/11 at 04:43 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

I’m not a fan of this at all. Just keep it the way it is. Balance is good. Just move Columbus or Nashville after this season and get it over with.

Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 05:10 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

But here’s what they should do…

Patrick: NJ, NYI, NYR, PHI, PIT, WSH, FLA, TB

Adams: BOS, BUF, CAR, CBJ, MTL, OTT, TOR


Norris: CHI, DAL, DET, MIN, NSH, STL, WPG

Smythe: ANA, CGY, COL, EDM,  LA, PHX, SJ, VAN

Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 05:19 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

Uneven divisions is unfair.

Posted by Paul from NJ on 06/25/11 at 03:16 PM ET

No, it’s not.  It just means a division with 8 has one more sucky team that doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.

Posted by RWBill from Brush Street cruising with Super Creepy Rob Lowe. on 06/25/11 at 06:10 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

Just keep it the way it is. Balance is good.
Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 04:10 PM ET

So that Detroit is the ONLY team in the NHL that will have to continue to travel through 27 time zones during the playoff season while Pittsburgh travels though,  oh, 0, just like every other Eastern Conf team.

That’s balance?  The Wings go through massive endurance sapping body clock skulduggery that no one goes through, yet still have played more rounds of playoff hockey than any other team lately.  Think of the additional success the Wings would have if other teams had to share the around the world travel during the playoffs along with all the other adversities that the playoffs inflicts.  Right now, it’s only the Wings.  They have played exactly ONE same-time zone series in the last 16 years in Western Conference playoffs.  ONE SAME TIME ZONE SERIES.

Balance?  Get some perspective, I beg you.

Posted by RWBill from Brush Street cruising with Super Creepy Rob Lowe. on 06/25/11 at 06:21 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

Perspective? Not a problem. This season, the Red Wings play 41 home games. Of the 41 road games, 16 are in the Central time zone and Columbus, and an additional nine are in Eastern Conference cities. That means 16 games is what the Red Wings are bitching about. Oh the poor Red Wings. Suck it up.

Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 06:38 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

By the way, the Penguins play in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Minnesota, and Winnipeg twice this season. That means the Red Wings play six more games than the Penguins in the Mountain and Pacific time zones this season. Oh but those poor Red Wings.

Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 06:42 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

That means the Red Wings play six more games than the Penguins in the Mountain and Pacific time zones this season. Oh but those poor Red Wings.

Disclaimer: I know Minnesota and Winnipeg are in the Central time zone.  Point is, it’s actually not that big of a deal, but the Red Wings are bitch and moan and probably get their way.

Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 06:47 PM ET

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Posted by some kid on 06/25/11 at 03:35 PM ET

Think they were talking about having a ‘South’ division.


So that Detroit is the ONLY team in the NHL that will have to continue to travel through 27 time zones during the playoff season while Pittsburgh travels though,  oh, 0, just like every other Eastern Conf team.

Balance?  Get some perspective, I beg you.

Posted by RWBill from Imported from Detroit, Land of Todd-Ber-Tuz-zi !! on 06/25/11 at 05:21 PM ET

ITP Columbus, Nashville and Vancouver don’t exist.

Posted by steviesteve on 06/25/11 at 06:48 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

ITP Columbus, Nashville and Vancouver don’t exist.

Just looking at a map shows that Detroit is one of the fifteen western-most cities in the NHL. Facts are facts.

Posted by cs6687 on 06/25/11 at 06:56 PM ET

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CS - Bill was referring to the playoffs, not the regular season. In the playoffs, Pittsburgh never has to travel far, and unless they end up making the finals versus Van or LA, or another West Coast team they won’t have to do much traveling. (DURING THE PLAYOFFS)

Detroit on the other hand has to go clear across the country every playoff round they end up in unless they play someone like the Wild or Chi or CBJ, but it’s usually teams like SJ or PHX. (DURING THE PLAYOFFS)

All of that jet lag and time difference can have a negative effect on a team.

Posted by LGRWeh on 06/25/11 at 07:03 PM ET

Tuba Guy's avatar

RWBill, I know Nashville counts as half of a hockey fan base but we did have two series with them.

Posted by Tuba Guy from Royal Oak, MI on 06/25/11 at 07:04 PM ET

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I think anyone can agree that the current situation is just terrible, and anyone that’s willing to look at it objectively can see it is completely unbalanced right now.

The problem is the east / west conferences.  Scrap it and do it like the NFL and MLB already, it makes no sense otherwise since the league geography is so lopsided.  They just need to think about it a little harder rather than taking the easy way out by using geographical divisions.

Posted by BuzzFledderjohn on 06/25/11 at 07:16 PM ET

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Pretty sure the NHL is just looking for ways to further marginalize teams west of the Mississippi.

Posted by RoneFace on 06/25/11 at 07:17 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

Pretty sure the NHL is just looking for ways to further marginalize teams west of the Mississippi.

Posted by RoneFace on 06/25/11 at 06:17 PM ET

Riiiight…as we’ve all known since the back in the days when the NHL stepped in and brokered the trade of Gretzky to the Kings, the league has no interest whatsoever in, and nothing at all to gain by the success of franchises not located in the traditional hockey markets of the midwest, northeast or Canada. 

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt though and assume you were being sarcastic.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 06/25/11 at 07:42 PM ET

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I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt though and assume you were being sarcastic.

Actually I was being serious.  Take a look at the Versus/NBC TV schedule (don’t think it’s out yet) and tell me the league is showing any interest in promoting anyone outside of the eastern time zone.  The only time a Pacific or Mountain team gets on national tv is if they are on an east coast swing.

Posted by RoneFace on 06/25/11 at 07:53 PM ET

Slumpy's avatar

I want the Red Wings in same conference as Toronto but if that means the Red Wings moving to the west leaving Chicago as the only Original 6 team in their conference then I am against it. Just imagine a future with the Red Wings have no chance to ever play the Habs, Maple Leafs, Bruins or NYR in the SC Final. That possibility saddens me.

Pretty sure from what I’ve read about this plan is that the front office old boys club wants to make it so only four teams from each division make the playoffs. Not looking forward to seeing teams with better records not make the playoffs than ones with worse because of what division they are in.

I find it funny how the NHL isn’t saying who exactly are heading these possible changes.  Is it bettman, daly, campbell, murphy and or most of the GM’s of the league? Someone man up a stop hiding behind anonymity releasing the league as a whole wants to make these type changes.
Veil of secrecy of how this league is running is disturbing. Took Balsillie suing the NHL to get them to release in court the leagues bylaws which were before not public record.

Posted by Slumpy from Detroit on 06/25/11 at 08:06 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

Take a look at the Versus/NBC TV schedule (don’t think it’s out yet) and tell me the league is showing any interest in promoting anyone outside of the eastern time zone.

For better or worse, the networks care about ratings, and since they know that historically the television ratings for hockey are usually considerably higher in the so-called traditional markets than the west coast or sun belt, they seem to make their decisions accordingly.

Let’s not confuse the networks’ ratings-driven motives with any kind of larger leaugue-mandated agenda though.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 06/25/11 at 08:06 PM ET

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Let’s not confuse the networks’ ratings-driven motives with any kind of larger leaugue-mandated agenda though.

Why not?  The league could easily ask that Versus/NBC broadcast double headers rather than just a single game but it’s clearly not a league priority.

Second, this is incredibly short sighted in my opinion (and MLB is guilty of the same thing with ESPN).  In the short term I have no doubt that the best ratings come from the eastern teams, though there are obvious timing reasons for that beyond the popularity of those teams or the size of the markets.  However in the long run the message being sent is that these select few (NYR, BOS, WAS, PHI, PIT) are the only teams that matter.  If the NHL wants to grow the game they have to grow it where it isn’t already popular and they have to increase the value of their tv contracts, and to do both they have to market teams in the west and the south. 

I’m not advocating a schedule based around bad teams in the west at the expense of the teams in the northeast, but maybe work to make the schedule a little more merit based.  Put your best foot forward as often as you can and show the fans across the country that their investment matters.  If it were me I’d also advocate for a more flexible schedule, particularly in the second half of the year that would allow the league to continue showcasing it’s best teams (and best games) rather than giving a national audience a dose of a big market team that is more or less out of contention.

Posted by RoneFace on 06/25/11 at 08:16 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

Posted by RoneFace on 06/25/11 at 07:16 PM ET

Those are all perhaps fine, debatable and totally admissable points as to whether the league’s current agreement with the American television networks has worked in the best interests of the sport.  But that’s a different argument.

Getting back to your original assertion, which seemed to indicate that you believe there is some sort of NHL conspiracy afoot to “further marginalize teams west of the Mississippi”, I’m not sure how or why you would come to this conclusion.

The notion that the league would actively and intentionally engage in some sort of scheme which would work against an objective (i.e. to “grow the sport” in non-traditional markets), that the league itself has clearly stated and doggedly pursued for the better part of the past three decades is a much different matter than suggesting that the league in tandem with the television networks have simply failed to do a comeptent job in achieving that objective.

Your follow-up comments merely serve to support the idea that there may be a case to be made regarding incompetence on the part of the league or the networks, but do nothing to support your original claim which, unless I completely misunderstood, implies rather strongly that you feel there is some sort of vast conspiracy against teams west of the Mississippi. 

There’s simply no plausible motive foe the league to do that.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 06/26/11 at 04:01 AM ET

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If they keep talking about 14 vs 16 split the only way to achieve that radical re-alignment based on time-zones would be to bring both Columbus and Detroit into the East.

This whole plan rest on keeping PHX from relocating…something I wouldn’t hold my breath on…

Posted by dca from Alexandria VA on 06/27/11 at 12:54 AM ET

John's avatar

I posted about this before on the original thread the parlayed the Garrioch article, but I am really excited about this realignment.  I also think it means two more teams are joining the league, which while this used to annoy me a lot, I am not as opposed to it of it comes as a result of a big picture strategy for realigning the league.  In context, expansion can make alot of sense.

I read an article on Mlive.com (michigan online news) that broke the divisions out like so:

Eastern Conference:

Northeast Division (eight teams): Detroit, Columbus, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, Boston, Pittsburgh.

Atlantic Division (eight teams): Rangers, Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida.

Western Conference:

Pacific Division (seven teams): Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix.

Midwest Division (seven teams): Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Winnipeg.

The only major change I would make to this plan is to keep Pittsburgh and Philly in the same division.  You just can’t break up this intra-state rivalry, so the Northeast should give up Boston, and take on Philly. But, I think this is the most likely breakout as all reports indicate that the league is drawing lines that keep time zones together.  This is the only way to make that happen.

This plan leaves 7 teams in each of the western conference divisions, which means we are probably looking at two more expansion teams in the Western conference.  There are plenty of major media markets that could be targets.

Everyone knows of the NHL’s interest in putting a team in Kansas City or Las Vegas, but there are three other massive media margets out there that could be targets as well:  Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Houston, TX. 

Seattle, which is the former home of the Metropolitans (the first American team to win the Stanley Cup) and Houston, home of the famed and highly successful Houston Aeros of the WHL and AHL (they frequently sell out the Toyota Center, which is a 20,000 seat arena) have a pretty long hockey history, and being megalopolis’ like they are I can’t imagine it would be difficult to fill a hockey rink.

Plus, adding two expansion teams to the west might be a good way to assuage fears stemming from the Wings moving to the eastern conference.  Its the same game the NHL played when they moved Toronto to the East.  To satiate a clearly pissed Red Wings franchise, the NHL gave them two expansion teams to prey on for several years.  That helped the Wings considerably and its one of the reasons why the franchise has won so many games over the last decade. 

After all, winning is the best way to fill seats, and I am sure a middle of the road franchise that has struggled to sell tickets would take a much better record and the increased prominence in their own media market stemming from playing two new expansion teams over a few games against the Red Wings that, while they fill seats, also are pretty likely to be losses.

The NHL wants to do something else to get the cap under control, but I find it highly unlikely that they are going to get another round of major concessions from the NHLPA since they pretty much got everything that they wanted last time around.  Under the current CBA, the cap is calculated by dividing league-wide revenue by the number of teams in the league.  Adding two more teams that would presumably be lower revenue during their first couple of years in the league would be the easiest way to lower the cap without a series of painful negotiations or a lock out.

Finally, the NHL has always tried to create more intra-divisional rivalry, but teams in the league say they want a more balanced regular season schedule.  If the reports are accurate, this problem is solved by changing the playoff format.  The top four teams in each division would make the playoffs and play each other for their divisional playoff champion in the first two rounds, before moving on their respective conference championships and then to the Stanley Cup finals.  This is a great way to both encourage divisional rivalries and create a more balanced regular season schedule. 

This plan just makes too much sense from all fronts.  I really think this represents a kind of silver bullet from the majority of the owner’s perspectives and from the league’s perspective.  I think this is likely to happen because there are too many parties involved who would have a positive result from this plan.

Posted by John from Pittsburgh, PA (Wings fan for life!) on 06/27/11 at 01:17 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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