"East vs. West" is not the best -- NHL Re-Alignment

In 1967, with the expansion of the National Hockey League from the fabled Original Six to 12 teams, the league had to split divisions...  And the resulting alignment was in an east-west format. 

That split was done in the most thoughtless manner as the powers-that-be refused to break up the original six teams in their division while sticking all six new franchises into the new western division.  It was simple, it achieved their means, and it was a geographer's nightmare:

Eastern Division (1967-68)

Western Division (1967-68)

Boston Bruins

Los Angeles Kings

Chicago Blackhawks

Minnesota North Stars*

Detroit Red Wings

Oakland Seals*

Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers

New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Toronto Maple Leafs

St. Louis Blues

*denotes defunct/relocated franchise

The fact is that this messy, segregated alignment was an unfortunate precedent that has been carried into the present day with the NHL.  Though some of the age-old rivalries have been preserved for the sake of marketing and certain alignments are specifically to help cut down on travel...  Well, they fail at mixing in the new markets that are part of the league and fail at creating new rivalries between traditional and non-traditional markets.  They also continue to be a geographer's nightmare and don't do as bang-up a job as they think with cutting down on travel.  They reward the northeast and punish the south and west at the same time.

The east-west division split ended up turning into an east-west conference split as more teams were added.  The alignment of teams didn't always make sense...  But the status-quo ruled and traditionalists were happy.  In fact, the only thing that would make some people even more happy about the current segregated alignment of the NHL would be to bring back the "Wales" and "Campbell" conference names.

Yet, for the sake of growing the game, growing the league, and growing the sport - it'd be wiser to integrate a different alignment all together with all 30 teams effected.  The true optimal alignment wouldn't be the ultra-regionalism that you see at current (where the Eastern Conference is the eastern seaboard teams and the west is everything else) but two divisions that take up all three regions of the continent - east, central and west - much like in Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

Yes, the NHL has its traditions and the east-west format is one by-way of precedent...  But any "tradition" that originally stuck Philadelphia in a west division while Chicago was in the east is a tradition worth changing.

We're not here to play "what-if" on franchise locations, nor facilitate the dreams of fan boys who want teams relocated to every Canadian city with a population over a million.  This post is out to accomplish one thing:  Take the league as it currently stands and implement a better alignment.  The focus isn't about preserving rivalries, though some are preserved and others resurrected.  This is more about just having an alignment that makes sense.  Not a throw-it-together, bless-the-status-quo alignment that the National Hockey League has long since employed without thoughts on marketing or growth of the sport.

Step One:  Split the Six.

The optimal alignment is two cross-continent conferences, as was stated above.  Major League Baseball and the National Football League have it right with that, and it's the model to follow.  Instead of stressing regionalism in the east and trying like hell to even out the west, the point here is to post 15 teams per conference without divisional preferences to how long a team has been a part of the league or how long the city has been an NHL market.

But, to throw traditionalists a bone, I thought to start with the original six (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, the Rangers, and Toronto).  Three of the Six will be in one conference, three in another.  This is how I started writing up the re-alignment and this is the why that compelled me to do it:  Detroit is not in the west.  This is part of the current alignment that drives me insane.

The Rangers are in the east, and that makes sense.  But Detroit and Toronto fall in the central division of Conference A.  In Conference B we have the Boston-Montreal rivalry maintained in the east while Chicago is in the central:

Conference A

East

Central

West

New York Rangers

Detroit Red Wings

Toronto Maple Leafs

Conference B

East

Central

West

Boston Bruins

Chicago Blackhawks

Montreal Canadiens

 

Step Two:  Release the East

The other major problem that stands out in the current alignment is that the Eastern Conference is hyper-regionalized.  You have points north (Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo) stuck together in the Northeast Division; the next segment of the eastern seaboard also gets massed together (Rangers, Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh).  It causes the third massing with southern teams and here-in lies the problem of hyper-regionalism:  you don't integrate the new teams into the existing NHL fan base.  While hoping a rivalry is sparked between two southern teams...  Well, the southern teams are disregarded by the rest of the conference.  You hope to grow a region and fail to grow the league.

Another unfair aspect about that massing in the east is during the Stanley Cup playoffs each year.  An Atlantic division playoff series may take all of a bus-ride between arenas, same with the Northeast division.  That gives eastern teams an unfair advantage of being rested (as well as travel costs being lower) compared to the current Western Conference counterparts.

So the next step is to break up the existing Eastern Conference between Conferences A and B's east and central divisions:

Conference A

East

Central

West

New York Rangers

Detroit Red Wings

Ottawa Senators

Toronto Maple Leafs

Philadelphia Flyers

Tampa Bay Lightning

Carolina Hurricanes

Washington Capitals

Conference B

East

Central

West

Boston Bruins

Chicago Blackhawks

Montreal Canadiens

Buffalo Sabres

Florida Panthers

Atlanta Thrashers

New Jersey Devils

Pittsburgh Penguins

New York Islanders

 

The east divisions are finalized at this point.  The Conference A east compares directly with Major League Baseball's National League East (with Florida and Carolina swapped).  A comparison can't easily be drawn with Conference B's east, as it's a mash-up of Northeast, Atlantic and Southeast teams. 

Step Three:  Westward-Ho!

By this point we've covered 17 teams, with Detroit and Chicago being the lone teams from the existing Western Conference to be allotted to either new conference.  It's a lot easier at this point to try to allocate the rest of the teams:  Three more to central divisions and ten to the west.

This is also where it can get messy:  You want an alignment that is fair in comparison to the East being broken up, but also fair in that it doesn't add too much extra travel.  Sadly, this is the most unfair aspect of the Western Conference:  You're going to get screwed no matter who you get slotted with, thanks to the west being spread out.

Conference A

East

Central

West

New York Rangers

Detroit Red Wings

Anaheim Ducks

Ottawa Senators

Toronto Maple Leafs

Calgary Flames

Philadelphia Flyers

Tampa Bay Lightning

Dallas Stars

Carolina Hurricanes

Nashville Predators

Minnesota Wild

Washington Capitals

St. Louis Blues

Phoenix Coyotes

Conference B

East

Central

West

Boston Bruins

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Montreal Canadiens

Buffalo Sabres

Edmonton Oilers

Florida Panthers

Atlanta Thrashers

Los Angeles Kings

New Jersey Devils

Pittsburgh Penguins

San Jose Sharks

New York Islanders

Columbus Blue Jackets

Vancouver Canucks

 

Step Four: Complain, Complain, Complain

I don't expect anyone to be happy with this in the end.  The Tri-state rivalry of New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania is laid to rest.  The Oilers and Flames are no longer in the same conference, nor are the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.  Toronto and Ottawa are no longer in the same division but they still share a conference...  Tampa Bay and Florida have been split up (a weak rivalry if there ever was one) and the LA Basin teams are no longer rivals in the same conference.

And yet, that's part of what compelled me to do this.  Why does Ottawa give a care about Carolina as it stands right now?  Or Les Habs about the Florida Panthers?  Why should Toronto give a damn about Nashville or Tampa Bay?  The Blackhawks about the Thrashers?  Currently, they don't.  That's not a mutual truth, but from the outside looking in that's another blog post for another time...

There are a lot of why's to be asked.  I'll try to answer some of the more glaring ones that might stick out:

  •  Tampa Bay and Nashville together in the central-A?  Wouldn't Nashville have been better with the more-midwest Central-B? 

    Originally, I had it like that.  Columbus was in the Central-A and Tampa Bay was the lone Southern team in central-A.   Some of these teams can be flipped in singular instance like this (Tampa switched with Atlanta, or Columbus flipped with Nashville, etc)...
  • Tampa Bay is also in the central and not the east like in MLB, why?

    Balance.  If the Lightning were in the East-A or East-B, it throws off much of everything else.
  • Why didn't you restore the Norris in full by putting Chicago in the Central-A division?

    Because I wasn't out to restore the Norris Division.  Remember, the first step of this plan was to put three of the Original Six in each conference.  Switching Chicago and the Rangers would have thrown things off.
  • What's the reasoning for breaking up the Calgary-Edmonton rivalry?

    Not going to be popular but I wanted to maintain an equal spread with Canadian teams like I did with the Original Six:  Three per conference (much like it currently is set in the East - West alignment). 
  •  How the hell could you have put the Flyers and Devils in separate conferences?!

    Easy, you type "Philadelphia" in East-A and "New Jersey" in East-B.  This was one of the hyper-regional rivalries of the Tri-State area that had to be put down, much like Rangers-Devils and Rangers-Isles.  There are more teams in the league to play against and loath...  Same thing applies for Toronto-Montreal and Montreal-Ottawa:  the rivalry is always in front of you and blinders go up to the rest of the league. 
  • Phoenix?, WTF?

    They're still in Phoenix and still appropriately in the west.  Like I stated earlier, this is not a what-if alignment where teams are relocated in a fantasy scenario.  Sure, if the Coyotes were to move - it'd screw up this alignment one way or another.  But it depends on the "where" as well as the "if". 
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Raw Charge

You must be a member of Raw Charge to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Raw Charge. You should read them.

Join Raw Charge

You must be a member of Raw Charge to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Raw Charge. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9355_tracker