Sports Outside the Beltway

NHL Overhaul (and Expansion?!)

Rumors have began to float about realigning the NHL, by focusing the divisions more around time zones to reduce some travel, out of prime time games and to have every team play each other at least once. The details as reported so far:

• A reduction in the number of divisions from six to four. There would still be an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference, but there were would one eight-team division and one seven-team division in each conference.
• The top two teams in each division would be guaranteed the top four playoff seeds within the conference with four wild card playoff berths going to the teams with the next highest point totals.
• The four new divisions would be configured primarily along the lines of time zones. The theory is not only would this benefit teams in terms of travel, but could also boost TV ratings because game times in the same time zone would be more favorable.
• The current Northeast Division (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Boston) would remain intact and add two other teams to form a seven-team division. Sources say Pittsburgh is one of those teams that would join the Northeast teams.
• The current Atlantic Division (the three New York area teams plus Philadelphia) would be melded together with four teams from the current Southeast Division (all but one of Washington, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida).
• The eight-team division in the Western Conference would feature all teams in Pacific or Mountain time zones (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado and Phoenix).
• The seven-team division in the Western Conference would feature teams that are in either the Central or Eastern time zones.
• As for the schedule, it is said to be a little more complicated than it currently is, because of the uneven number of teams in the divisions, but each team will apparently play its division rivals six times each and its conference rivals either three or four times each and non-conference teams once each.

What makes this interesting is that it creates unbalanced divisions in each conference, creating the opportunity to add two additional teams to the League to re-balance the divisions. This would also serve to appease AEG who is pushing hard for a franchise in their Sprint Center in Kansas City as well as a push to replace team that have relocated in the last decade or so to new cities (specifically Québec City, Winnipeg, and Hartford). However, teams left those cities for a reason. They had loyal fan bases, but were stuck in small markets (or in the case of Hartford stuck between the Rangers and Bruins). Look for NHL expansion to focus on some larger untapped markets or regions that have strong minor league hockey follows specifically Portland (Oregon), Salt Lake City and Houston. Of course they could always fold two teams….

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What the NHL obviously needs is contraction. By getting rid of teams in cities that can’t support a hockey team and redistributing talent to the remaining teams, they’d be a lot better off.

Posted by James Joyner | December 22, 2006 | 04:01 pm | Permalink

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