The tangled web of NHL realignment has more solutions than an algebra test. Considering the whole topic is so complicated there is little use of trying to make heads or tails of a potential end to it all.
However, this tweet from Adam Proteau was brought up Tuesday afternoon on TSN 1050 and it really got the wheels turning in my head (ok there is just one wheel).
Any previous permutation of the potential alignment for the 2012-13 season was tackled by Bob McKenzie. I’m personally a fan of his final scenario (Plan F), in which Winnipeg would start a counter-clockwise rotation of teams in each division. While it involves moving the most teams, it also creates the best regional and time zone matchups.
Let’s put Winnipeg in the Northwest Division, but keep Minnesota, Colorado,
Calgary and Edmonton there, and move Vancouver to the Pacific Division.
Vancouver in the Pacific makes a lot of sense because, well, every team in the
Pacific would actually be on Pacific time. That would allow Dallas to move from
the Pacific to the Central.
McKenzie’s proposal keeps the same divisional alignment while appeasing the largest number of upset franchises. I think Columbus or Nashville are the two teams in most need of a move East. Nashville makes the most sense to play in the Southeast Division due to their proximity to the rest of the division. Columbus needs more games against regional rivals like Pittsburgh and Buffalo in addition to better start times all year. They are in more trouble than Nashville due to what the time change does to TV viewing. Plus, Detroit’s natural rivalries with many Western teams makes it easier for them to stick around for the time being.
A scenario which establishes four divisions (two eight-team and two seven-team) is favorable, as well. However it makes the playoff and regular season scheduling complicated. The NHL’s ultimate goal should be to get Columbus to the East at all costs. If there is room to accommodate Detroit and Nashville, then do so. However, they are better suited to play in the West than Columbus.
Proteau’s Tweet actually provides a conceivable realignment format in addition plus the ability of the league to wash their hands of problem organizations. Florida and Phoenix would be the main targets while Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, the Islanders and the Devils could be in trouble too.
While contraction is a scary thought that would indicate a systematic failure in the league, it actually could serve as a benefit to the league. Consider the fact that the NHL has been operating the Coyotes for well over a season, plus the financial instability that has plagued the Panthers for nearly a decade.
Both franchises are wallowing. Fans dressed as seats often outnumber those dressed in jerseys. Rather than attempt to support a team that bleeds red ink which no one has interest in buying, why not cut bait?
Not only would this strategy rid the league – and the other 28 owners – of two franchises bringing down the league’s financial viability; it also would flood the league with nearly 50 NHL-ready players, thus raising the skill level of the entire league. For example, Shane Doan, Keith Yandle and Erik Gudbranson would be made available to the rest of the league. Between roster players and prospects, each team would receive two players who could step in and contribute as some level.
By contracting a pair of franchises the conference realignment becomes much easier. Either Columbus or Nashville (my top-two candidates for the East) can move out of the West, it doesn’t matter which at this point. The four-division format becomes a layup with 28 teams. It allows the NHL to maximize time zone-based divisions which will make everyone happy.
While I see the benefits of contraction and realignment, I’d prefer the league find owners for troubled franchises in cities that will truly support the teams. If that means Quebec City, Kansas City, Hartford and Seattle need to be considered, so be it. The time to try to prop up the Sun Belt movement is over. Obviously these teams see little support aside from when they’re winning a division title.
The NHL is clearly on an upswing, it is time the league step up and fix these floundering franchises for the overall good of the league.