If Thrashers move to Winnipeg will Preds move to East?

Thrashers move

Rumors are abound that the Atlanta Thrashers will be moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba before next season.

But if the Nashville Predators lose their closest georaphical rival, does it really matter? The Preds are in the Western Conference while the Thrashers are in the East and, therefore, rarely play each other. So is this a situation we should be monitoring closely here in Music City?

Absolutely.

If Atlanta moves to Winnipeg, it would almost certainly free up a spot in the Eastern Conference that a West team would need to fill. Considering the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators are the three clubs closest to the Eastern Conference without being a member, you’d have to assume that one of them will be moving. But which one?

Columbus is the eastern-most West team but Detroit is just a stones throw away from northern teams like Toronto, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. But, then again, the East isn’t losing a team up north. They’re losing a team from the Southeast and the closest team to the Southeast is Nashville.

So who goes?

Rather than speculate who should go (because all three teams mentioned above have a case), I propose a complete Conference realignment in the National Hockey League.

Below is the current geographical map of the NHL.

The league is made up of 30 teams with five teams in each of the six divisions and three divisions in each conference. Working by that current model, it would be easiest if the NHL put the Winnipeg Thrashers in the Central Division and moved the Nashville Predators into the Southeast Division. There. Done.

But what if they killed several birds with one stone? Vancouver, a Pacific Time Zone team, has long been in the Northwest while Dallas, a Central Time Zone team, has long been in the Pacific. Yes, the Canucks are closer to their division rivals the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames but those teams are also in a division with the Minnesota Wild, a team that’s 1,800 miles away from Vancouver.

That’s just ridiculous.

So I propose the NHL realign the entire league. But not just by reshuffling the divisional deck. Why not shuffle the entire system? Why not think outside the box a little bit and create three conferences with two divisions in each? It would look as such:

[table id=11 /]

Below is the proposed geographical map of the NHL, seperated into the three conferences. You can see that the western most teams are grouped together, the central and southern most teams are grouped together and then the eastern and northern most teams are grouped together.

Does this make the NHL a perfect world? Absolutely not. After all, the Red Wings are just a lake hop from the Toronto Maple Leafs but, to keep the conferences at 10 teams each, this makes the most sense. Unless you want to put the Washington Capitals, who are in the Philadelphia Flyers’ backyard in with the southern teams but they’re clearly in the cluster in the northeast.

So, no, it doesn’t solve all the problems and complaints but it does create a more even playing field. Especially with the time zones alone. Travel is brutal and every team is going to have to do it. But, if you’re Los Angeles, why would you want to travel four hours on a plane and then lose two hours in the time change just to play a divisional game in Dallas, Texas three times a year?

As the league is structered now, each team plays the other teams in its division six times. That’s 24 games that each team is required to play against their divisional opponents. Each team then plays the other teams in their conference four times each, giving us 40 more games. Then, the teams play opponents in the opposite conference 18 times (spread over 15 teams), giving us the grand total of 82 regular season games.

In my proposal, the NHL would go from an 82 game schedule back to an 80 game schedule. Each team would play the other nine teams in its conference four times each (two games at home, two games on the road) for a total of 36 games. They would then play one additional game against the other four teams in their own division (alternating home games each year) for a total of four games. Then they would play each of the teams in the other conferences once at home and once away for a total of 40 more games. This gives you an even 80 games, 40 at home and 40 on the road, and something the NHL fails to have now: everyone playing everyone at least once home and away.

Obviously this solves a lot of problems in the regular season but a three conference league poses questions about the playoff structure. So when it comes to the post season and the seeding, instead of 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, etc., I say 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, etc. While this may seem lopsided, it really isn’t. Sure, if they had this system in the NBA, they’d have a 37-45 Indiana Pacers squad going up against a 62-20 Chicago Bulls team. But this isn’t the NBA. This is the NHL. Parity exists here and, with this system, the 95 point Dallas Stars would’ve went toe-to-toe with the 117 point Canucks in the first round, the 107 point Caps would’ve played the 96 point Buffalo Sabres, the 106 point Flyers would’ve squared off against the 96 point Montreal Canadiens, and so on. (Remember, if you’re pooling everyone together, the New York Rangers wouldn’t have gotten in thanks to a weaker Eastern Conference).

What this system also does is eliminate the “they’re only there because they beat up on an inferior division” argument. We’ve heard that so often about the team coming out of the Southeast where high-flying Washington obliterates bad Atlanta, Carolina and Florida teams and has basically won the division title before the NHL Trade Deadline in February. This way, it’s more spread out. You’re only playing your divisional foes five times instead of six and everyone else is playing them as well. Albeit less frequently but that’s better than what goes on now. With the current system, you could go two years before playing against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins while other unfortunate teams are subjected to playing them twice in a single season.

Regardless of whether they take this opportunity to make over the entire league or not, the NHL should at least entertain the idea. Simply relocating the Atlanta franchise to the city of Winnipeg and putting them in the Central while moving Nashville to the Southeast would be the easiest solution and, quite honetly, may be necessary logistically for the 2011-12 season. But, going forward, it has to be something the league looks at.

You’re never going to please everyone, we know that. But you also get very rare opportunities to revisit how you do things and the relocation of a franchise is one of those rare opportunities.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Oilers Nation for the NHL map.

12 Comments

  1. Patten Fuqua

    May 16, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    “Yes, the Canucks are closer to their division rivals the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames but those teams are also in a division with the Minnesota Wild, a team that’s 1,800 miles away from Vancouver.

    That’s just ridiculous.”

    Says Mr. Puts Dallas in the Same Division as Edmonton ;)

  2. Lee Druce

    May 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Well thought out; except what happens if (basically “when”) Phoenix moves. Highly unlikely, but they could possibly move to Quebec City which is arguably northeast. Overhauling a league that is in flux seems improbable.

    Second, like it or not, Detroit games are big money makers for Nashville. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’ve kept the lights on.

    Columbus will join the Eastern Conference.

  3. Stevio51

    May 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    If we were in the east we’d be in the finals

  4. David Moore

    May 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I haven’t looked at the comments to see if this suggestion has already been made, but here is a much simpler solution to realignment. Move Columbus to the southeast. It’s not an ideal geographic fit, but the east already benefits greatly from being in single timezone, so they don’t have much to complain about. Also, Columbus is the newest team in the Central with the least success, so their move is the least disruptive. The Winnepeg (thrashers) should play in the Northwest, along with the other 3 western Canadian teams and Minnesota. The Avs could move to the Pacific. Much closer to california and phoenix, and dallas could move to the central to replace columbus, thus eliminating many of the multi-timezone jumps that the three california teams make. Final result:

    Atlantic – unchanged.
    Northeast – unchanged
    Southeast – Columbus, Washington, Carolina, Florida, Tampa

    Centtral – Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis
    Northwest – Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver, Winnepeg
    Pacific – Anaheim, Colorado, LA, Phoenix, San Jose

    Ideas? Thoughts?

  5. amy anderson

    May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    You make entirely too much sense. It will never fly. I’m pretty sure money has to do with which teams are in which conferences. Or, they just threw all the names on a board and let them land. Wherever they landed, that’s which conference they were assigned.

  6. JEFF

    May 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    When the Thrashers move to Winnipeg,instead of a southeast division,rename it to something else,and add Philly in there with Washington and Carolina.Then move Boston & Montreal into the division with the Islanders,Rangers,and Devils.Then you move Pittsburgh and Detroit in the division with Toronto,Buffalo,and Ottawa.Next you move Minnesota back into the division with the Blackhawks,Blue Jackets,Blues and the Predators.Then you add in Winnipeg in Minnesota’s spot.That’s the way you do it,just rename the divisions in the eastern conference to something else.

  7. Garence

    May 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I definitely like the “out of the box” approach, but this gives the northeast a distinct advantage in terms of miles traveled. If you look at how many miles a team like Dallas has to log in divisional play compared to any team in the northeast – it makes it more lopsided than it is today.

  8. Aaron

    May 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Nice thought but your leaving out all the rivalries and series that make hockey great. They would never move Montreal out of division of Toronto and Ottawa. Pittsburgh won’t leave the east and Columbus is not joining the Southeast. Just enjoy going to the games in sunny Florida, because Nashville is moving. Minnesota to the Northwest with Winnipeg, Colorado to the central.

  9. Aaron

    May 26, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    St. Louis in the Southeast? On what planet? They’re in the Midwest. Nashville should be in the Southeast. Here are my ideas for possible realignment in the future with expansion:

    Eastern Conference

    Southeast Atlantic Northeast

    Washington Pittsburgh Buffalo
    Nashville Philadelphia Montreal
    Tampa Bay NYR Toronto
    Carolina NYI Boston
    Columbus New Jersey Ottawa
    Quebec*

    Western Conference

    Central Northwest Pacific

    Detroit Dallas Vancouver
    Chicago Colorado Portland+2
    St. Louis Winnipeg+1 Los Angeles
    Minnesota Edmonton Anaheim
    Houston+3 Calgary San Jose
    Seattle*
    *Expansion
    +1 Atlanta
    +2 Phoenix
    +3 Florida

    Columbus may not necessary be in the Southeast, but it would organize things better in each conference especially with expansion. When driving to Tennessee and Florida, you have to go through Ohio anyways. I know what you’re saying, where are the Florida Panthers? They’re another team with money and attendance problems. If things don’t improve there, they might receive the same fate as the Thrashers and potentially the Coyotes.

  10. machoman

    May 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    MN to the central, Winnipeg to the NW, and Nashville moves to SE. Most simple plan – this is what the NHL will do. Makes perfect sense!

  11. rob manzo

    June 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

    My ideas for realignment:

    SE – Washington; TB; Carolina; St. Louis, Florida
    Central – Detroit; Nashville; Chicago; Colorado; Columbus
    NW – Vancouver; Calgary; Minnesota; Winnipeg; Edmonton

    As much sense as it makes to move a team that plays in the Eastern Time zone out of the western conference Detroit ain’t going nowhere. I have St. Louis taking Atlanta’s spot in the SE, Colorado moving to the Central to replace STL and Winnipeg taking Colorado’s place in the NW. I think everyone sans some fans in Detroit would be happy with that.

  12. rob manzo

    June 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Ok, flip flop Nashville & St. Louis in the post above.