NHL Realignment: Which Teams Benefit the Most?

Earlier this week the NHL announced the proposed plan for realignment. Working with the NHL Players’ Association, the National Hockey League’s new realignment plan includes four divisions in two conferences with wild-card spots for the playoffs. The breakdown shapes up like this:

NHL Realignment 2013

We actually like this proposed plans although it is not without flaws.  While this realignment plan is yet to be finalized pending approval from the Players’ Association, the fact that the NHL and the NHLPA have worked on this collectively should mean that this is close to a done deal.

So looking at this proposed format, there are a number of pros and cons (depending on which team you are), however from a fans perspective this looks pretty good.

5 Benefits of Proposed NHL Realignment

  1. It makes sense geographically – Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets move to the Eastern Conference and the Winnipeg Jets move over to the West.  This just makes sense doesn’t it?
  2. Divisional Rivalries are intact – fans will still get to see the Battle of Alberta, the Battle of New York and the Pens vs. Flyers.
  3. More Original Six Match-Ups – the Central Division includes 4 of the original six teams pre-expansion era.  This is great for travel, for hockey fans, for TV and for for the Game.
  4. Better Opportunity for Canadian Teams to make the playoffs – quite honestly it would be great for the NHL and for the Game if a Canadian team or two won the Stanley Cup.  It has been 20 years since a Canadian team hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup and that is frankly too long of a stretch.
  5. Small Markets get the opportunity to see the Game’s Star Players – Winnipeg Jets fans will get to see more of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks while Columbus Blue Jackets will get to see more of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.  This could be a boost for struggling markets such as the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Of course the proposed realignment plan is not without its faults.

  • Imbalance between teams in the East vs. West.  With 16 teams in the East, the Eastern teams have a slightly less chance of making the post season whereas teams in the West have a slightly better chance.  This is great news for myself as a fan of the Edmonton Oilers but not entirely fair to Eastern teams.  The fact is that this is the best that we can do at this point.
  • The plan means that we will see crossover within divisions for playoff spots.  For example if the Oilers finished ahead of teams in the Mid-West division and enter the playoffs in one of the wild card spots they would then enter the playoffs as a “Mid-West” team as opposed to being a “Pacific” team.
  • Playoff format is not the greatest.  We think that the NHL should revert back to the top 16 teams making the playoffs where the first place team plays the 16th, the second best team plays the 15th and so fourth.  Wouldn’t it be cool to see a Chicago/Tampa Bay match-up or an Edmonton / Pittsburgh first round tilt?
  • What about NHL relocation or expansion?  Sure Phoenix might move to Seattle, but what if they were to move to Quebec or Southern Ontario?  The Eastern Conference which already has two more teams than the West would have another team added?  Not sure how well that would sit with the other Eastern GMs.
  • The naming conventions for the Divisions.  Obviously geography makes sense, but NHL traditionalists and hockey fans alike would much prefer some old school hockey names thrown in (remember the Smythe, Norris, Adams & Patrick Divisions?)

Potential Names for the Four New NHL Divisions

Here are some options that the NHL should consider for the four divisions:

  1. Remembering the 80’s – How about returning to Smythe, Norris, Adams and Patrick Divisions?
  2. Keep the GEOs – Pacific, Mid-West, Central and Atlantic are not all that bad.
  3. Name divisions after past (recent) hockey greats:  Pacific = Gretzky Division, Mid-West= Hull Division (Bobby or Brett), Adams= Orr Division, and Atlantic = Lemieux Division?
  4. Hybrid of old and recent hockey greats – Pacific = Gretzky Division, Mid-West = Norris Division, Central = Adams Division and the Atlantic = Lemieux Division?

So which teams benefit the most from the proposed NHL realignment?  Well there are a number of teams that benefit from the proposed realignment, but here are the five teams that will benefit the most.

 5 Teams That Benefit the Most from NHL Realignment

  1. Detroit Red Wings – the Wings cut down on their Western travel and get to play more games against potentially weaker teams in Florida and Buffalo.
  2. Winnipeg Jets – like the Red Wings, the Jets get to cut down immensely on their travel no longer having the travel schedule off their predecessor Atlanta Thrashers.  They will save money on operating expenses and can begin a new rivalry with their neighbors to the south, the Minnesota Wild.
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets – the Jackets move to the tighter checking Eastern Conference which might end up being a bonus for them.  They also get more home games where NHL top players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin come to town which can only help ticket sales.
  4. Edmonton Oilers – this team is starting to build a contender, with only seven teams in each of the two Western Divisions, earning a playoff spot just became a little easier for the Edmonton Oilers.
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins – the proposed Atlantic Division looks to be the weakest Division on paper save maybe the Pacific.  The Penguins will easily rack up more points against teams like the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and New York Islanders.  Advantage:  Penguins.

Overall the NHL realignment plan looks pretty solid.  While we are not entirely sold on the playoff picture, this proposed realignment could be good for fans of Canadian hockey teams and fans of the NHL in general.  Let’s hope the NHLPA approves it.