By Tom W.
Pretty much everyone has taken a geography lesson at some point or another in their lives. I, personally, only know some cities by their proximity to an NHL team. With the movement of the Thrashers to Winnipeg and the (hopefully unfounded) fears of the Islanders’ relocation, Gary Bettman and the NHL have to realign the conferences and divisions to best suit the teams and the fans, and geography naturally plays a pivotal role in the reorganization. In this post, I will outline the plan that, in my opinion, best suits everybody’s needs.
When realigning conferences, the NHL has to consider travel to division opponents, foster existing rivalries and create new ones, and try to keep each division as even as possible. Being reasonable, this last goal is impossible because teams are in constant flux, and making the divisions balanced now will ensure that they will not be within five years. So, let us first consider travel arrangements. This year, because Winnipeg is so far from its division opponents, it will be taking extended road trips to shorten the total distance traveled by the team. On multiple occasions, they will be away from the MTS Centre for two weeks at a time. By contrast, aside from the first few weeks of the season while renovations are completed on Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will spend no more than 10 days away from Manhattan. There is only one trip of this length, and it includes an away game to Nassau Coliseum followed by three days of rest. Clearly, Winnipeg will be more drained by the end of the season. This illustrates the need to keep travel distance and time away from home ice as even as possible in the divisions.
Before delving into the logistics of which team belongs in each division, we should examine the structure of the conferences. There are two basic possibilities: one that divides the league into “East” and “West” and splits the division by region (see: hockey, soccer, basketball), and one that spreads each conference evenly across the country, then sorts by region (see: football, baseball). Given that ten of the league’s thirty teams are in or near four metropolitan areas near New York and Ontario (Rangers, Isles, Devils, Flyers, Pens, Sabres, Leafs, Sens, Canadiens, Bruins), it seems necessary for the NHL to shift to the model used by football and baseball: divide the league into National and American Conferences (or two other names) then divide each into three. This will allow the teams in each division to travel approximately the same amount, while maintaining an organization that promotes many of the sport’s deepest rivalries.
Keeping the logistics of travel in mind, the NHL’s job is to foster the rivalries that make this sport so exhilarating for its fans. When considering the rivalries, they fall into four basic groups:
- Proximity: When two teams are geographically close to each other, fans naturally grow to hate each other. If the enemy is in your backyard, it becomes even more important to shame them, and what better way to settle personal feuds than on the ice? Plus, proximity rivalries get cool names like the “Battle of New York”, the “Battle of Ontario”, and the “Freeway Faceoff”. (Aside: if the Isles do move, I hope they move to Seattle so hockey can have the “Battle of Juan de Fuca Strait”.)
- History: Original Six teams have always, and will always, dislike each other. From 1942 to 1967, rivalries became so engrained in the players and coaches that the teams still keep them alive today. Any matchup between the six teams in question carries extra weight among fans, players, and commentators.
- Recent success/controversy: Over the course of a few seasons, animosity can spring between two teams who battle for the top spot in a division or conference, or between two teams who see each other in the playoffs each year. These rivalries come and go, though some persist longer than others. The best example from the past season is the Penguins/Capitals rivalry. For every matchup, it is billed as the matchup of the two best players in hockey, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. It would be irresponsible of the NHL to consider these rivalries when realigning conferences, because it will invariably conflict with their other realignment goals.
- Division rivalries: Sometimes, hatred is born when two teams see each other repeatedly throughout the regular and post season. Since 1970, the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks have been in the same division, and have faced each other in 10 playoff series. The teams’ rivalry is fueled by animosity between the two cities themselves, and the annual rivalry in Major League Baseball between the Cubs and the Cardinals. As a result, any game between these two teams carries extra weight and often sees extra penalty minutes, even as the Blues have sank in the standings during recent seasons.
Proximity rivalries will persist even if the teams aren’t in the same division. Therefore, splitting the Leafs and the Sabres or the Lightning and the Panthers between divisions will not quell the contempt fans have for each other. The same logic applies to Original Six teams. Considering division rivalries will be most important for the realignment. For example, hockey is the only professional sport without a Boston/New York division rivalry. Football has Jets/Patriots, baseball has Yankees/Red Sox, and basketball has Knicks/Celtics. Pitting the Bruins against the Rangers six times each season will deepen that rift, making each game that much more impassioned. Similarly, Midwestern states often carry grudges against each other, with Minnesota and Illinois being no exception. Again, the rivalry runs across many sports, professional and collegiate. This is a rivalry the current conference alignment does not promote, with the Blackhawks in the Central Division and the Wild in the Northwest Division, but the new alignment would.
With these rules in mind, here is my plan for the new divisions:Leetch Conference:
- NY Rangers
- Boston Bruins
- Washington Capitals
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Nashville Predators
- Ottawa Senators
- Montreal Canadiens
- Buffalo Sabres
- Colorado Avalanche
- Edmonton Oilers
- Calgary Flames
- Winnipeg Jets
- Vancouver Canucks
- NY Islanders
- NJ Devils
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Florida Panthers
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Detroit Red Wings
- Chicago Blackhawks
- St. Louis Blues
- Minnesota Wild
- San Jose Sharks
- LA Kings
- Anaheim Ducks
- Phoenix Coyotes
- Dallas Stars
yeah I really think the article was well written al beit about something we all know will happen, up until you went and made those divisions .. first off Boston Rivalry with New York be damned the Nhl will never remove the Boston Montreal rivalry nor the Toronto Montreal Rivalry.. the Rangers will not be taken out of a division with the pens flyers and devs that makes zero sense.. and although geographically speaking Washington fits the bill to take the Isles place there is no way the league randomly puts Tampa Bay in the same division as new your and Boston..the realignment will likely be very similar to what we have seen with perhaps the Redwings moving to the East and the Jets moving to the west..
@andrewstamant29 The goal was to make Gilbert and Greschner into "coastal" divisions, while Richter and Giacomin form further inland. As mentioned in the travel section, it doesn't seem right that teams in the west go traipsing all over the place while there is a glut of teams in the northeast that doesn't need to leave a 4 hour radius. So while Tampa may seem "random", I see it as an equalizing maneuver.
@SirKengin I see how you may have come to the conclusion and it seems to make some sense on a practical level but you have to start thinkin in terms of dollars rather than attempt to save an extra 120 mins of in flight time.. there is no way you take away the millions of dollars of tv , attendance, and marketing revenue that comes from traditional rivalries like Boston vs. Montreal. you spend one saturday night in Montreal when the Habs play the Bruins and then tell me you think the NHL will take that away .. or go to the ACC in toronto or Rogers arena as it is called now on a saturday night when the Leafs are playing montreal or Ottawa and tell me Bettman will take that away... not a chance.!! travel is an issue for some clubs however never will it be a deciding factor.. a couple extra inflight hours per week will not force any league to realign divisions and uproot tradition ... its part of the game man..
Wow, I was expecting some flak for this, now I'm just glad there aren't pitchforks and torches outside my house.
I will gladly admit, the Rangers get the worst deal in this alignment. They lose three rivals (I would gladly trade the Pens for any of the Isles, Flyers, or Devils), and get only Boston in return as tailormade rivals. However, my argument is that the changed alignments would do little to alter our distaste for any of those teams, and may even make meetings between those games all the more exciting for their infrequency. Quite frankly, I disagree that a four division league would do more for rivalries. As a fan, I think it is difficult to focus hatred on more than a few teams. For example, a Rangers fan watching a Flyers/Devils game can say "I hope the ice breaks and the players get lost in oblivion" (and I often do). Introducing three more teams to hate turns other games in the division into simply "I hope the underdog wins". Hockey, to me, is about passion, and I find six divisions more polarizing than four.
I didn't put in my schedule changes that would go along with this, put it would mix baseball and football's models, rotating how frequently divisions face off by year. This makes the average road trip length longer in both time and mileage, but doesn't change the total season mileage significantly.
Finally, I will admit that I may have a skewed view of the TV schedules that may color my judgement. I will watch any game that is on, even if it doesn't involve the Rangers, and I record every Rangers game I can (until I moved out of my apartment this summer, I had 84 Rangers games TiVo'd). To fans like me and the friends they coerce into watching hockey with them (I've turned six people into hockey fans just by getting them to watch with me), expanding the number of teams seen during primetime could actually improve viewership and league interest.
The league will probably never approve something like this, but I stand by it as an alternative to a four division league or simply shuffling three teams. That's the opinion I hoped to present.
@SirKengin Maybe Im speaking from what I know, that being that I am Canadian and noone here needs to be coerced into becoming a hockey fan, but seeing other teams play is somtheing you can do now at any point in time if you really want to without any type of realignment taking place.. its called NHL center ice.... this plan makes absolutley no sense and removes far more than 3 rivalries ...coming from a Hockey fan like you claim you are that is a pretty bias reason for wanting realignment and blind to some adverse affects that would touch more than how we feel as Rangers fans.. (by the way these conference an ddivision names would be laughed at).. taking away the Rangers -Devs-Islanders-Pens -Flyers rivalries would all be rediculous but you also have single handedly removed the Boston -Montreal-toronto rivalries- you have taken away the battle of Ontario Leafs- Sens and the batlles between Buffalo and Toronto-and Montreal Buffalo you take away the florida rivalry in tamp and Florida among others that have started to blossom such as Chicago Nasville and Minnesota colorado... this plan makes no sense .. sorry bud
@andrewstamant29 The places I've lived have not been close to NHL markets, but rather to college hockey markets. For whatever reason, the people I find couldn't get into professional level hockey until they had someone to watch with. And if I made it sound like I want realignment so I could watch other teams, I didn't explain myself well. To an avid fan, seeing other teams is not a big deal. To a casual fan, seeing the same teams you don't care about gets old in a hurry. I can only base this on the people I talk to, so I don't claim to be 100% right. Watching more teams then makes it easier to pick out a favorite. And believe me, it is incredibly hard to convince unemployed college students to even split a Gamecenter subscription.
As for the rivalries, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Taking a team out of a division does not mean it will never play those teams again. The rivalry will still be there, I believe the anticipation would be greater, and the NHL can promote them even more aggressively. Then again, I'm not an econ major, I've never taken an advertising class.
And the division names... Is this not a Rangers blog?
@SirKengin@andrewstamant29 However, what you seem to keep forgetting is that attendance and viewership are highest when playing rivals. making "the anticipation" greater would not make the NHL more money. The way rivals are made is through geography but most importantly through meaningful games. Games are most important in the playoffs so rivalries are born in the playoffs. Splitting up rivals like the devils rangers, habs bruins and similar rivalries is idiotic and would make the NHL less exciting and hurt the NHL overall. In addition, the NHL is definitely interested in minimizing travel but this is still a business and this system wouldnt allow the NHL to maximize its profits, which is sadly their number one concern.
@andrewstamant29 and as for the divistion names joke, if I wanted to use players that the NHL might actually consider they would include "Crosby", "Ovechkin", and maybe even "Pronger". Methinks I'll stick with my way...
@andrewstamant29 No doubt, incredibly far from what WILL happen. Still, I think its a quality option, based on how I see the sport. And you are very right, we have two different trains of thought on rivalries. I see the head to head as most important. The Isles fan mentioned earlier has been giving me smack talk since October when we lost to them. We were the better team for the season, but we still only went 4 and 2 against them, and some of the games were closer than they should have been. This division alignment glorifies the head to head and playoff rivalries, while scaling back on the division standings rivalries. I'm sorry it took so long to make that clear, thank goodness for the comments section.
@SirKengin I understand your point and respect your opinion and yes it is a Rangers blog but we are discussing the "National Hockey League" however despite the fact that I see your point especially when it comes to the fact that teams can still play each other, standings and where your team is in relation to the other guys team is half the rivalry. I think we come from two different places. I cant go anywhere or hang out with any of my buddies of family memebers without hockey coming up. we teas each other and smack talk every chance I get . Im a rangers fans my older borther is a Blackhawks fan (although the rangers never play them) and Im surounded by Habs fans who live here permanantly and Leafs fans who come from Ontario to my university to study , needless to say hockey is a major topic of conversation and smack talk is a religion here. uprooting tradition simply would anger a lot more people than you might think.. casual hockey fans are cool in their own right but will never dictate the direction of the league because they want diversity.. either way good post, well written and thought out .. my opinion is it is far from what WILL happen but hey props on offering up an opinion..
@SirKengin Great job Tom. Takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that.
@KevinDeLury The people I talk hockey with in person either love or hate the arrangement, but those debates are with fans of many different teams, so its easier to find the bigger picture. I think I underestimated how difficult it is to convey an opinion over the internet.
Those conferences and divisions are atrocious to say the least. Caps will join the Atlantic if the isles leave. NHL can't pass up Crosby ovechkin 6 times a year.
@KingBadaBing I agree this makes zero sense.. even from a Rangers fan .. Tampa Bay???? and face it as much as New York would like another Boston Rivalry sadly the tradition between the Bruins and Habs is far more intense no way in hell the league does that
No need to reorganize the entire league. The divisions can be re-aligned to geographically make sense by moving only 3 teams: Jets, Preds and Wild
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs
Tampa Bay Lightning
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
St. Louis Blues
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
Not so hard now, was it?
@CJ EXACTLY this is the kind of simple solution the league will implement.. people looking for complete overhauls are rediculous We need to be realistic and realise that although we might like to see some new opponents for our Rangers that this is a 30 team league with fans in every city who would make similar arguments..
I get the premise of this, but you can't break up 3 heated rivalries to try to manufacture one. The Rangers and Bruins have been playing each other for 85 years. The rivalry is what it is and will not be any more. Sure the other 3 sports have NY/Boston division rivalries, but so what. They don't have in division rivalries for NY teams, unless both teams are doing well (Mets-Yanks: did anyone really care this year; Giants-Jets: Cowboys & Dolphins have more juice; Knicks-Nets: Nuff said). The Rangers-Islanders and Rangers-Devils rivalries are unmatched in any other sport, but developed over time, not through re-alignment. It just won't work.
and i didnt even see u have the canucks and all those western teams in the rangers and other teams conference. that couldnt be a worse idea for travel costs as well as to make travel easier on the players. in addition, another reason not a single NHL would approve this propsal is that with western teams in the rangers conference, 1/3 or more of the rangers and other eastern teams games would be on the west coast starting at 1000 in NYC and the east. this would kill the TV market. yes the rangers do play in the west this year but they make one or two trips and dont have to go there all the time to play teams in their conference. The NHL and the NHL teams would lose money due to more travel and less prime time TV games and that factor alone makes this system that can not be implemented.
i have to say, no way do i go for this realignment, no way. forget for a second the removal of the devils, islanders or flyers from the rangers division (WHICH IS IDIOTIC), and focus on the total loss of rivalries and pressure games for the NHL as a whole. no division matchups for the bruins and habs?? what a joke.
take a look at post 11 for a solid answer, i like a north and south division for each conference: Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Sabres, Rangers, Islanders and Devils in North, Penguins, Flyers, Capitals, Lightning, Panthers, Hurricanes and Predators in the South.
with something like that, you foster rivalries, historical and geographic. we lose the flyers, but gain the isles and devils...sacrifices must be made
Wow, this is terrible. You split us up with all of our rivals except the Pens (and I am not sure that everyone hates them as much as I do.) No Devils, no Isles, no Flyers...WTF? Total Fail.
this is a much worse version of the guest blog post we already saw. the other proposal was much better. this is a less cool and less fun system and definately does less to foster rivalries. overall a bad idea
This is the WORST of all the realignment plans I have seen. Removing the Devils from the Rangers division is crazy.
I like adding the Bruins to the division but Tampa at the loss of the Devils. No THANK YOU.
I look forward to the opertunity to visit the Rock three times a season to watch the Rangers and Devils.
With the Islanders in flux... I can see moving them but not the Devils.
@Gary_KC2NPU I actually like it. A little out of the box. Agree that I'd hate to see Devils out of the Rangers division. Maybe swap the Devils with the Pens.