NHL Division Realignment
With the potential sale of the Atlanta Thrashers, and possible relocation of the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada,the NHL is looking at the potential need to realign a few teams into new divisions. While the rumors are out there for a simple realignment plan, with only one team switching conferences besides the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, my brain got to thinking of how the league should properly segment itself. Find out what restructuring I think would benefit hockey the most, after the jump.
No need to really even talk about this division, as it is perfect just the way it is. Detroit may want into the East, but there are many more teams who need to switch, both geographically and based on money. Detroit will always draw and make money no matter what division they're in. Keeping them in the Central is only natural. While more games in Toronto and Montreal are nice, breaking apart the Blackhawks and Red Wings is sacrilegious.
Splitting apart the Pennsylvania teams is tough, but keeping such a compact conference by including Washington is too convenient to pass up. Crosby is the league's golden child, but Ovechkin is much flashier, and a lot better fit for multiple visits to the Big Apple every year. Since the Crosby draft, Pittsburgh is already a completely different franchise than the Lemieux glory days. May as well define the Crosby Era with a switch to the west
While Columbus could also be a candidate, Nashville and Dallas are both better candidates to join the Southeast. Dallas could fight for Arkansas with Nashville, and it gets rid of a team playing division games two time zones apart. Nashville instantly has a true rival with Carolina, and hockey still won't be relevant in Florida, despite how good the Lightning are. The Nascar Division might be mostly recent expansion teams, but the league already shutdown an entire season, got rid of the old division and conference names, and might not name Winnipeg the Jets. They don't care about history anymore. As an added bonus, they could try and stage a Winter Classic at Jerry Jones World, and have the Stars play either the Eagles, Giants, or Redskins on New Year's. I mean the Flyers, Rangers, and Capitals.
One of the biggest switches I would make is putting Pittsburgh in the Central instead of Minnesota. They are an interstate ride away from Detroit and Columbus, even Chicago if you want to put a couple miles on. It puts Crosby in the Western Conference, where he can get extra visits to struggling cities like Phoenix, and (most likely) Winnipeg. It shifts the West even further east, but putting Sid the Kid in four of the top six TV markets is better than just keeping him on the East Coast. Like Gretzky in the '90s, Crosby out west helps saturate the country even more into the hockey culture. This also sets up a Big Ten like division around the Great Lakes, which is good once they start up as a NCAA conference in near future.
While it was really hard for me to keep the Wild out of the Central, or even building a long north/south division with WIN, STL, DAL, and CHI, keeping them in a Northwest would be good in terms of competitiveness. It's a little bit more travel than some other divisions, but it's no longer a ridiculous two hour time difference for division games. A little extra travel money would go a long way in creating playoff money in the state of hockey. Being the second or third priority in a division isn't deserving of Minnesota, but a chance to essentially headline their own division would be nice, biased or not. Colorado could shift to the Pacific, but making Minnesota go all the way to Vancouver is one of the worst alignments ever concocted. This division might seem like nothing but barren tundra and prairies, but in the middle of winter, everyone is going to be playing or watching hockey. The fit only seems natural.
Having the Canucks in the Pacific lines the league up north to south in the Pacific time zone, which is great for TV. Vancouver is actually closer to the LA teams than it is Winnipeg. If the Coyotes end up moving somewhere, even to the east, Colorado could get slotted into a future Pacific.
While it is highly unlikely that the league would ever think closely about this type of radical realignment, especially if it were to occur on such short notice. However, this is a league that has been at the forefront of innovation in recent years, and have shown a willingness to adapt and change to cater to the wants of the public. No matter what, a sale of the Thrashers almost certainly means some type of division realignment, it's just a matter of how much the NHL wants to shuffle the deck.
Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms. He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long. Look for new articles throughout the week. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bryanvickroy If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .