With news coming out that Seattle has been awarded a new NHL franchise and the league will be expanding to 32 teams, there is also a lot of talk regarding how the teams will be realigned and situated with different divisions.
As it currently stands with 31 teams, there is a conference imbalance, and the Central division only has 7 teams instead of 8. With this type of change and expansion, what better time to completely shift the way the NHL is aligned and structured. We saw change after the lockout in 2012, even before the addition of the league’s 31st team to Las Vegas.
More than 4 divisions
Let’s make it fun again. But instead of going back to the pre-lockout format of six divisions, let’s really make it fun and make eight small divisions of four teams. Here is one way that it could work:
Geographically, things work pretty well. There aren’t any massive spaces between teams. The largest gaps appear to be between Arizona and the other teams in that proposed division, and this is even an improvement from Arizona set to to move to the existing Central Division with the current expansion.
Your primary argument against this might be regarding rivalries. My rebuttal — it keeps some intact in divisions, like Pittsburgh and Washington or Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. It keeps the building rivalry between Toronto and Buffalo intact. All 3 teams based out of New York City remain together. Edmonton and Calgary remain together. If this shift would break up a current division rivalry, who cares? You can still have a rivalry without being in the same division, and real rivalries can really build when we get to the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs
Here is where you might want to fight with me about the playoff format and how that would be decided. And I have a solution that would make it easy.
Eight teams from each conference still make the playoffs, so there would be no change from that aspect. The best two teams from each division would qualify for the postseason. Here is where you argue that good divisions could have 3 good teams and bad divisions could have 1 good team. This still happens now under the current wild card format, which is flawed. There is going to be no perfect formula or format, so my counterargument is that to qualify you need to finish better than 2 other teams. If you can’t do that, sucks to be you.
As far as playoff seeding would go, make it easy. The four division winners would be ranked 1-2-3-4 and the division runners-up would finish 5-6-7-8, all based on regular season point standings. If those matchups result in division rematches in the playoffs, fine! If not, that’s fine too! Let the points dictate the postseason bracket, not an in-division or out-of-division format.
This would even be a good time to introduce 1 vs. 16 with the division winners being seeded 1 through 8 and the division runners-up being seeded 9 through 16. Blow it wide open!
Obviously, the regular season schedules and how many times you play certain teams would be impacted by this, and that could all be adjusted by the league, just like they did after the last realignment. It’s patently clear that the NHL would never go for a change like this because they don’t like fun things or things outside the mundane world, but it’s fun to think of.