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NHL Expansion brings questions about realignment and scheduling

Two bids for new NHL teams, one in the east and one in the west. Is re-alignment necessary? Scheduling for the league may make it that way.

A photo form December 2014 of the under-construction arena in Las Vegas. LV has a bid in for a new NHL team.
A photo form December 2014 of the under-construction arena in Las Vegas. LV has a bid in for a new NHL team.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One point of fixation regarding NHL expansion talk (since it started in earnest in 2014) was about realignment of the NHL if and when the league added franchises. This was spurred along by the fact all the early talk, speculation, reports and rumors had latched on to Seattle, Washington and Las Vegas, Nevada as the future destinations of NHL teams.  Two additional teams in the West, the Conference alignment would go back to even - as many teams in the Western Conference as there are in the Eastern Conference.

Yesterday's NHL expansion application deadline, which ended the process that had been open to all interested parties in all interested markets (with continued fixation that Las Vegas and Seattle would be of the applicants) had the surprising revelation that only two markets had submitted applications. The surprise was born from rumors suggesting there was broader interest - Toronto, Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Houston among other potential markets.

Oh, yeah, and the Pacific Northwest was not one of the applicants.

Las Vegas and Quebec City, Quebec are the bases of operation for the two groups that applied. Quebec City's got a new arena (and the desire to resurrect the Nordiques, who relocated to Denver in the 1990's and became the Colorado Avalanche) while Las Vegas has a new building under construction and has worked with the league to get itself in prime position for the whole formal process of expansion.

If the NHL moves forward with expanding (and doesn't discover an excuse not to more forward) and both cities work out... well, that means one team in the East and one in the West. What happens with NHL realignment? Which NHL team moves to the Western Conference?

I'll answer that with a question of my own: Is there even a need? With a Quebec City franchise in the East and Las Vegas in the West, the Conference differential remains at 2 teams more in the East. Scheduling would be tweaked, but that was going to happen no matter where teams added to the league were located: extra games against in-division and in-conference would be decreased to work the new teams into the schedule.

OK, it's not going to be that neat and tidy. As it currently stands, some in-division foes face each other five times a season instead of the standard in-division four while playing the other conference teams three times a season. The opposing conference teams are scheduled to be played twice a season.

In the end the breakdown is 30-24-14-14 for the Lightning (to use the Bolts as the example team with the schedule).  Those numbers calculate a little different for the Western Conference teams (29-21-16-16) but it all gets to the nice and neat 82 games.

Using that 4*-3-2-2 divisional schedule breakdown doesn't work - too many games played.  Switching all non-divisional series to 2 games each leaves a varying number of games that need to be scheduled still to reach 82 for the season.

A major re-alignment still happen, though going to a three-division format would complicate the schedule. Going back to the even-division split may ease the schedule, but remember that the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets pushed hard to get into the Eastern Conference with the last re-alignment of the league. Would you be comfortable with the Lightning in the Central Division as the re-alignment casualty to make way for Quebec City?