When the Thrashers officially moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, my initial thought was that Detroit would likely head east and the Jets would fall into the Northwest and some team like the Wild would fall into the Central Division. But when TSN reported yesterday that Winnipeg would fall into the Central Division along with the Wild, Blackhawks, Predators, Stars and Blue Jackets, I had two quick thoughts:
- Six teams in a division? That doesn't work out right, as it makes for five six-team divisions.
- Where the hell are the Blues in that equation?
It bugged me to the point where I actually went to Google Maps and plotted all 30 teams' cities to get a better look at the NHL geography. Here's what it looks like (you may have to zoom out a three times to get all of North America to be visible):
View NHL Cities in a larger map
Using this as a basis, I decided to try to put together a new NHL alignment. First I made a few assumptions:
The Wild owner who said there would be six teams in a division is crazy. The only thing that makes sense is either six divisions of five teams or four divisions - two with seven teams and two with eight teams (one of each in each conference). The six divisions probably causes less confusion and is easier on the schedule makers, but I'm not ruling out the four mega-divisions yet.
Certain teams geographically make sense to stay together. I used those as the basis for the new divisions. starting with six divisions, those 'anchor teams fall out like this:
Northwest: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary
Pacific: San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix
Northeast: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo
Atlantic: New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New Jersey, Philadelphia
Southeast: Florida, Tampa, Carolina
With these five divisions pulling teams in every direction, it leaves the Central as the one in the most turmoil, so let's look at the map and assign a few more teams. Looking at the Pacific, the division needs one more team - and looking at the geography, Denver looks closer to those four teams than Dallas does, making divisional travel easier for all concerned.
If Colorado joins the Pacific, the Northwest still needs two teams to complete their division and the two closest geographically are Winnipeg and Minnesota.
Dallas, then, makes the most sense to move into the Central, joining fellow Central time zone teams St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville. The last team to round out the Central will be either Columbus or Detroit. I feel like the Wings are the team that are heading east, joining the world of easier travel schedules and putting themselves in a division with Toronto and Buffalo. This leaves the Blue Jackets as the last Central team and Detroit closes out the Northeast Division.
With no where else to go, Boston joins the Atlantic, fueling that NY-Boston rivalry even more. The Capitals, then, stay in the Southeast and are joined by the Penguins, who probably get screwed bigger than any other Eastern Conference team when Detroit moves in and bumps them into a worse travel schedule. The only other option for the Southeast in this scenario is to move Philly into the Southeast, but I think the pre-existing Capitals-Penguins rivalry better suits this alignment.
So, here are my proposals:
- Northwest: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota
- Pacific: San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado
- Northeast: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit
- Atlantic: New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston
- Southeast: Florida, Tampa, Carolina, Washington, Pittsburgh
- Central: St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas
And what of the four mega-divisions? Personally, I think they'd make for some interesting races, but the scheduling might get goofy.
- West: Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton
- Central: Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Columbus
- Northeast: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh
- East: New York Isles, New York Rags, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, Tampa, Florida
Feel free to make your own changes or suggestions in the comments, and if anyone has any thoughts on balancing the schedule under the four division system, I'd love to hear them. I'd also like to hear your thoughts on re-naming the divisions, if you think that's necessary.
But whatever you do, acknowledge that moving the Blues out of the Central makes no sense.