As mentioned in our NHL realignment stream, the NHL is preparing for a possible major realignment after next season. The reintroduction of the Winnipeg Jets will force the league to shake up its makeup, and commissioner Gary Bettman recently proposed shifting to four divisions.
I previously mapped out a set of scenarios for NHL realignment, but they all hinged on the league retaining its current six-division setup. Under the new proposals, it's rumored the Red Wings AND Blue Jackets would both get to move East, something that was not possible under the six-division format. Moving Detroit out of the West will undoubtedly bring out all the critics that say it will hurt attendance figures, to which I say: Get your own fans, moochers. The Red Wings aren't this magical force that keeps your team afloat, so stop using that as an excuse to keep them out of the East.
However, if Bettman plans to keep two identical 15-team conferences it is impractical for both to move East. If both Detroit and Columbus were to move, an existing Eastern squad (other than Winnipeg) would actually have to move out West to balance things out as two teams departing the West would leave the conference with just 13 clubs. Rather, the only way to move both would be to go to a 16-team Eastern Conference and a 14-team Western Conference, with two seven-team divisions in the West and two eight-team divisions in the East.
ATLANTIC: New Jersey, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia
NORTHEAST: Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa
SOUTHEAST: Washington, Carolina, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Florida
CENTRAL: Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis
NORTHWEST: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado, Minnesota
PACIFIC: Dallas, San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim
Four Divisions, 15-15 Split
In a report by the Ottawa Sun, Bettman's plan calls for four divisions: The Northwest and Central would be dissolved into one "Midwest" division, while the Atlantic and Northeast would form an "East" division, with the Southeast simply becoming the "South." However, they fail to mention that 15-team conferences won't work with both Detroit and Columbus in the East. So, if you're going to have an eight-team division and a seven-team division in each conference, you'll have to choose between Detroit and Columbus:
EAST: Toronto, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Detroit/Columbus (remember to count this as one entity as it will be one or the other), Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo
SOUTH: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida, New Jersey
MIDWEST: Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit/Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado, Winnipeg
PACIFIC: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim
As you can see, there aren't many "Southern" teams in the South division, but if that's the name they're going with it probably won't look that different. Perhaps they should instead keep the Atlantic and Northeast names, but that's just nit-picking. The South and Pacific divisions got the seven-team designations because they are the two areas where the teams are more spread out. If it's Columbus that gets the nod, they should move into the South and New Jersey to the East.
Of course, this scenario ignores the Nashville problem. The Predators want to move East as well and would fit into the South Division. However, I have a very hard time believing the league would move a Central Time Zone team to the East before a team that is actually in the East (Detroit and Columbus). Nashville just does not make any sense in the East. Sorry.
Four Divisions, 16-14 Split
In the proposed "MLB" design, both Detroit and Columbus would move to the East, giving the conference 16 teams and leaving the West with 14. Since we're in the mood for splitting things, I'm going to literally split up the Northeast name and create "North" and "East" divisions because it makes more sense, scrapping the "South" name altogether.
EAST: Tampa Bay, Florida, Washington, Carolina, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, New Jersey
NORTH: Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, Ottawa, Boston, New York Rangers, New York Islanders
MIDWEST: Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas, Winnipeg, Colorado
PACIFIC: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix, Los Angeles
There has been talk that Columbus would like to form a rivalry with nearby Pittsburgh, so into the same division they go. Columbus is technically more East than Detroit, so it even works out geographically! The Jackets lose the Red Wings as a divisional foe in the process, but did you really consider them fierce rivals to begin with? Meanwhile, Detroit gets to join four other Original Six squads in the North.
Wings beat writer Ansar Khan has a proposal like this that has Detroit and Columbus in the same division, but I don't believe it's that important to keep them together. He has another proposal that we'll get to in a bit.
The Western Conference looks a little bare under this format. Chicago stands out as the only Original Six club left in the West (there were only two to begin with, so not a huge loss anyway). The Midwest is much more spread out than its Central Division predecessor, an unfortunate side effect of the four-division format. The three Western Canadian teams are a bit isolated in the Pacific, but at least the California teams and Phoenix will have to make as many trips up there as the Canadians will down south.
(By the way, there is really no great place to put Dallas and Colorado. If you look at this NHL map, they are literally surrounded by nothing. At least most other teams have a little cluster of friends nearby; the Avs and Stars have no one. I don't know which division those fans prefer, but it really doesn't matter looking at the map. Maybe one day there will be a team in Kansas City to keep you company, but that's another story for another time).
Six Divisions, 16-14 Split
Another possibility that was thrown out by Khan was a 16-14 split that keeps the six division format. This would also have both the Wings and Jackets move East, leaving the West with 14 teams again.
The major element in Khan's proposal is the separation of Boston and Montreal into different divisions. Boston would go to the Atlantic and Pittsburgh to the Southeast while Detroit and Columbus take Boston's place in a six-team Northeast Division. I think it's safe to say that's NOT going to be popular with Boston and Montreal. Khan's alignment also splits Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, something Pennsylvanians wouldn't take kindly to.
If you were hell-bent on keeping the Bruins and Habs together, moving Columbus to the Southeast, keeping Pittsburgh in the Atlantic and simply adding Detroit to the Northeast might make a bit more sense. It would look a little something like this:
NORTHEAST: Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo.
ATLANTIC: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey.
SOUTHEAST: Columbus, Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida.
NORTHWEST: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg.
PACIFIC: San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado.
CENTRAL: Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota.
Columbus isn't exactly Southeast, but it's no more Southeast than Washington is, and they've been playing in the division for years. Khan might have been going for a more balanced look by not having so many Original Six teams in one division, but I don't think splitting up Boston and Montreal is the way to go.
Of course, these are just my opinions. Everyone has their own take on realignment, so what's yours?