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By John Woods
Conference alignment changes that should've never happened 20 years ago were officially redeemed by the NHL Monday, Dec. 5, 2011.
And let it be known that regardless of the current names, "A," "B," "C," and "D," I'll be calling them by their historical nomenclature circa 1992, both in the future and below:
- Smythe: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado
- Norris: Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg
- Adams: Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay
- Patrick: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina
I’ve been waiting for this day ever since the last NHL lockout ended!
Finally, the Rangers are back in the Patrick division.
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The NHL’s geography is permanently askew thanks to the northeastern tilt of its fan base and teams.
Furthermore, it would be impossible to make fair geographic divisions without ignoring rivalries - and good rivalry is what drives great fan bases. Imagine if the NFL had followed that idea in 2002; the Cowboys would be in the NFC South or West, the Dolphins would be in the AFC South, the Steelers in the East… the list goes on.
"The league considered two plans to accommodate Atlanta's move to Winnipeg this past summer. The first would have simply moved the Jets to the Central Division and either Detroit or Columbus to the Southeast."-ESPN
Would Detroit or Columbus (not Nashville) in the Southeast - the planned move - have been any better? No.
Any conference realigning was going to screw over a few teams, notably either Carolina or Florida/Tampa Bay. And yes, the Florida teams will have to travel more, but they’ll receive more attendance from Northerners who travel south. Carolina’s the odd team out, but gets to keep its biggest rival of Washington. (And creates a division where all three Staal brothers play each other almost nightly, though that’s just an added bonus.) And Winnipeg should be in Smythe and Colorado in Norris, to keep rivalries.
But not every plan’s perfect.
As for the 'two seven-team conferences being easier-to-win' notion: The NHL has arguably the most parity of any major sport. Take New Jersey for example. Now in an eight-team conference, they're terrible, but it was only two years ago that they won their division. Carolina and Tampa Bay, as bad as they’ve both been recently, each have a Cup within the last decade. Simply put, teams aren’t going to be as bad for as many years anymore. (Except the Islanders.)
What's more, the old criticism that three-division conferences give bad teams higher seeds is now a thing of the past.
It could very well happen that a fifth-place team in Patrick would have a better record than a fourth-place in Adams, but that’s better than a sub-.500 division winner. Something that has happened multiple times in the NFL, most recently last year with Seattle (albeit did lead to this).
Having more teams in Norris and Smythe won’t be an issue when Phoenix moves in a year (if an owner hasn’t come around by now, he never will). Gary Bettman will end the obsession with keeping a hockey team in Arizona and sell it to someone that recognizes hockey needs to be played in cold weather. That will likely be in Canada, whether it’s Quebec City (most likely) or Ontario. Put the new team in Adams, and the problem is solved.
|Jobing.com Arena, home of the Coyotes, located at 9400 West Maryland Avenue, Glendale, AZ.|
(this just in: border-crossers in Arizona are flocking to Jobing.com Arena! Get it?)
So what are the best parts of the revived NHL conference alignment?
It undoes much of Gary Bettman’s attempts to Americanize the league. The old Patrick, Adams, Norris, and Smythe divisions meant something! Having a division title meant something – it was the best in the playoffs, not the regular season.
There’s no charm in “Atlantic” or “Midwest” divisions, especially when they’re ripped directly from the NBA’s division names. Gary Bettman started in the NBA. You do the math. Going back to the old ways is one of the best things Bettman could have done to undo the damage he’s caused to the NHL.
The “casual fan” isn’t going to care about conference names. He’ll care about good hockey, and better rivalries help that. And the biggest problem with the regular season is that there are too many games, not that the wrong teams make the playoffs.
Every team now has a home-and-away with every other team. This should have happened years ago. It’s fun to see the Rangers play the Penguins once in a while, but not six times a year while the Kings and Ducks duke it out in SoCal (the main criticism of this plan should be that it keeps the unbalanced scheduling, but it should be lessened with more teams in a conference). Now every team plays at MSG every year.
This is a big step forward for the NHL. Now contracting a few teams – the Florida teams come to mind, as do Nashville and Carolina – and bringing back Quebec and Hartford would be even better.
This switchback is not about remembering NHL ’94. It's about how much hockey loves its history.
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