Perspectives on the proposed NHL realignment

When the first full NHL season under the new collective bargaining agreement begins in the fall, the league could look completely different.

The NHL has proposed a realignment plan that would change the number of divisions from six to four.

The proposal still needs to be accepted by the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL’s Board of Governors. If accepted, the new divisions would be:

  • Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
  • Mid-West Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
  • Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
  • Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

Visually, the divisions would look as follows:

2013-2014 NHL Realignment Map

The plan would also radically change the playoff format, introducing wild-card spots and changing from conference playoffs to divisional playoffs. The top three teams in each division would automatically make the playoffs. The four wild-card spots would go to the two remaining teams in each conference that have the top point totals.

A potential snag

But will this plan actually be accepted? According to Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika, the same snag that the realignment plan that was proposed in December 2011 hit could lead to the rejection of the new plan:

The NHLPA did not consent [in 2011] largely because the odds of making the playoffs were imbalanced. In an eight-team conference, 50 percent would make it. In a seven-team conference, 57 percent would make it.

But [under the new plan] the odds of making the playoffs would still be imbalanced. Eight teams would still make it in each conference, as they do now. But while eight out of 16 in the East would be 50 percent, eight out of 14 in the West would be 57 percent.

Beneficiaries of the proposal

While not perfect, the proposed divisions would greatly benefit some teams.

Take the Detroit Red Wings, for example. Detroit is in the Eastern Time Zone, but the Red Wings currently play in the Western Conference. Not only do the Red Wings have to travel far to play Denver, Phoenix, and teams in California and the Pacific Northwest, but they also end up playing in the Mountain and Pacific time zones almost every time they leave their division to play conference opponents. That’s draining for the players, and the fans have to stay up late to watch their team on the road.

The Winnipeg Jets also win big because travel would be greatly diminished. When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets, the team remained in the Southeast Division with Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Washington. Last time I looked, Winnipeg isn’t remotely near any of those places.

With the new plan, the Red Wings would move to the Eastern Conference, and the Jets would play teams in the central United States. Geographically, that makes much more sense.

Impacts on the Minnesota Wild

As a Minnesota Wild fan, there is much to like about the proposal.

For road games, the new division makes much more sense. Dallas, the farthest team away in Minnesota’s proposed division, is closer than three of its current divisional opponents (Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver). Perhaps better yet, Minnesota’s divisional opponents would all be in the Central Time Zone with the exception of Colorado.

In regards to divisional matchups, things get interesting.

Minnesota would be joined in the division by the Dallas Stars, who of course are the former Minnesota North Stars.

The old Norris Division would make somewhat of a comeback. The North Stars, Chicago, St. Louis, and Winnipeg (not the same as the current franchise, the Jets from back then became the Phoenix Coyotes) all played in the division at one point. Thus, Wild fans who grew up following the North Stars would be able to welcome back old rivalries.

With the college rivalry between the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota taking a hiatus with the teams moving to new conferences, it seems like perfect timing for some reborn NHL rivalries.

Speaking of the University of North Dakota, Wild fans who also bleed kelly green will frequently get to see UND alum Zach Parise take on fellow alumni Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues.

But before you get too excited, Wild fans, remember that this proposal still needs to be accepted, and the NHL and NHLPA have a slight problem (okay, big problem… see the 2012-2013 NHL lockout) with coming into agreement with one another.