Cold as Ice is Popblerd’s new weekly hockey column, authored by Jay Kumar and Stephen Mapes. This week, Jay takes a look at the NHL’s plans for realignment.
Now that the new NHL season is underway, it’s a great time to look ahead to next season. Specifically, the 30-team league plans to realign its divisions next year. Currently, the league is split into two conferences with three divisions each.
The move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg happened too late to change the alignment this season, but obviously a team located way up in Manitoba isn’t a good fit for the Eastern conference’s Southeast division. So the Jets will move West starting next season (where the original Winnipeg franchise was located), and in December, the NHL Board of Governors will determine how the rest of the alignment shakes out.
It’s believed that Detroit, Columbus and Nashville all want to move to the East, so it’ll be interesting to see what transpires. In the meantime, there are various theories floating around. One report from The Biz of Hockey blog speculates that the league may move to two larger divisions in each conference. Another proposal in SB Nation Hockey suggests the NHL follow the example of Major League Baseball and the NFL and scrap the East-West conference setup, instead going with three geographically balanced divisions in each conference. This way, the expense of traveling cross-continental distances to play teams is spread out throughout the league instead of just in the West.
The latter proposal makes sense, but whether it’ll be approved is another question. It’d be difficult to get everyone to sign off on such a radical change, but certainly proponents could point to the success of MLB and the NFL. Namely, the Eastern-based teams most likely would oppose any change that would require them to travel to the West coast more than the few times they do now. And of course, it would result in later start times for a bunch of their games. So expect anything along those lines to get shot down.
The NHL has had several different alignments since the old Original Six days, when the league’s six teams were in a single division. Starting in 1967-68, the league expanded and the various configurations took root. I grew up watching the NHL when it had conferences and divisions named after various historical hockey figures: You had the Prince of Wales conference with the Adams and Patrick divisions and the Clarence Campbell (longtime NHL commissioner) conference with the Norris and Smythe divisions. After former NBA exec Gary Bettman took over as commish in the early ‘90s, the league switched to Eastern and Western conferences organized by geographical lines, echoing the NBA’s format.
Whatever happens at the Board of Governors meeting in December, the NHL should come out looking different. The bigger issue of what to do with struggling teams in certain cities probably won’t be addressed, so I guess the NHL’s powers-that-be will let that problem fester until another day.