February 27, 2013

The thing that the NHL is getting wrong with realignment

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

The NHL finally released one of its worst-kept secrets of reason memory this week, something that has been floated out there for over a year: Realignment.

It makes all the sense in the world. In fact, it makes so much sense that you have to figure that a guy like Gary Bettman or Donald Fehr would blow it up out of spite. Granted, the proposal still hasn’t been approved, so that is still a very real possibility.

At first glance, the new plan looks like it’s dead on geographically – with the minor exceptions of the two Florida teams playing in the “Central division.” But, when you think about it, it makes sense. Considering the many ‘snowbirds’ that fly south from the Northeast in the winter, there’s already a built-in fanbase for the division rival clubs coming to visit. Besides, it’s not like these teams are going to be a permanent fixture in sunny Florida, right?

The biggest problems that realignment solves are the travel troubles that the eastern-most Western Conference clubs had to contend with as well as the fact that the Winnipeg Jets played in the Southeast Division since moving from Atlanta.

Especially happy should be the Detroit Red Wings, who finally get to capitalize on their Original Six rivalries with both Toronto and Montreal – even if they’re losing out on playing Chicago as often. Columbus escapes the West too, but they have essentially zero rivalries being such a young, terrible team.

There is a pretty sizable problem with realignment though, being the size of the conferences – the east will now have 16 teams and the west 14. That means everybody’s favourite word in sports the past few years: Wild cards.

After all, baseball has adapted an extra one to great success and the NFL has seen numerous wild card teams win the Super Bowl in recent years. How it will work in ice hockey is another matter. The regular season is already enough of a grind that you’d have to think that fans watching their team get bounced in a one-game playoff would be quite upset. But, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that works out before condemning the idea.

The real area where the NHL is screwing this up is one that is probably an oversight to many: The division names. The Pacific, Midwest, Central and Atlantic divisions are such uninspired names. The league has to get back to its roots of naming divisions after the great men of the game of ice hockey.

Remember the Norris Division and Campbell Conference? Those were great, inspiring names. While I’m not saying to go back to them directly, what I’m suggesting is a twist: Name the divisions after some the league’s modern greats that played for the teams in that division.

Instead of the Pacific Division containing Edmonton and Los Angeles, how about the Gretzky Division? Instead of St. Louis’ Mid-West Division, the Hull Division. Detroit’s new Central digs? Try the Lidstrom or Yzerman Division. The Atlantic? The Lemieux!

This even open up the debate for whom the divisions could be named after and the conferences as well. You could even go as far as to honour the previous season’s division winner by naming the renaming the division every season after that club’s designated legend.

That may be a bit farfetched, but at least it would cause debate ad make things more interesting than simply going with the geographical regions once again. Am I right?

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

1 Comment

  1. The problem with naming divisions after living people is that what happens when Gretzky loses it and beats up his daughter for posing nude in Playboy. Tigers Woods could have been the next Pope if he didn’t get caught with those text messages. And then there’s Oscar Pistorius.
    How about naming the Divisions after some of the past greats like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau…

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