MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. | The 2011-12 NHL season will feature an unenviable travel schedule for the Winnipeg Jets as members of the Southeast Division. But according to reports – most notably one by the Sporting News’ Craig Custance – the league wants to radically realign and not just move the Jets to the Western Conference.
Custance, citing an NHL executive, reports the possibility of four time-zone based divisions – two with seven teams and two with eight. Under this proposal, four teams from each division would make the playoffs, which would have a first round of divisional play and then re-seed. That might do away with conferences at all, an interesting proposition that might make the Red Wings and Blue Jackets happy.
First, here’s a look at the current NHL by time zone. For the sake of argument, the Coyotes are kept in Glendale and not moved to Quebec City.
Eastern (16) – roughly from North to South
Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Bruins, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Red Wings, Flyers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers
Jets, Wild, Blackhawks, Blues, Predators, Stars
Oilers, Flames, Avalanche, Coyotes
Canucks, Sharks, Kings, Ducks
According to reports, the divisions would tentatively be called East, South, Midwest and Pacific. In a perfect world, the 16 Eastern Time Zone teams would split into two eight-team divisions, leaving four Pacific Time and three Mountain Time teams in the Pacific division and the six Central Time teams and the remaining Mountain Time team (the Avalanche) in the Midwest.
But if the NHL kept the Eastern and Western Conferences, it would mean a 16-team East and 14-team West. Say what you will about competitive balance, but it doesn’t take a math major to point out that it would be harder to qualify for the playoffs in the East.
Travel, however, would still be easier in the Eastern Conference, and eight teams would still make the playoffs – likely plenty in any given year.
Here’s a possible look at those possible divisions, with the caveat that the Red Wings only fit in the “South.”
East: Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Bruins, Rangers, Islanders, Devils
South: Capitals, Red Wings, Penguins, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers
Midwest: Jets, Wild, Blackhawks, Blues, Predators, Stars, Avalanche
Pacific: Oilers, Flames, Canucks, Sharks, Ducks, Kings, Coyotes
Initial reaction? Whoa, that South Division is tough. Yes, it is. Who knows if the NHL will pay attention to that when drawing up the lines. Keeping the three New York City-area teams together makes sense, and it wouldn’t make sense for them to be in a South division ahead of the Flyers and Penguins.
If conferences are thrown out the door, the Red Wings could shift to the Midwest Division and still not have the pain of traveling to West Coast so often. In that case, the first round of division play would leave the league with eight teams, who would be re-seeded for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finally the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s a radical plan, for sure, and one that probably won’t be finalized until the December Board of Governors meeting. But it’s an interesting one that would shake up the league.
Now, if the Coyotes move to Quebec … well, that’s a blog entry for another day.