Saturday, October 8, 2011

NHL Realignment - One that (mostly) makes sense

[Update - the NHL owners passed a proposal that was a bit different than this, but it did resolve the "Stars in the Far West" issue. Unfortunately, the players union promptly shot it down. With another round of labor issues on the horizon, I can't say I have a lot of faith that something positive is going to come of it....]

There are a number of issues with the National Hockey League.

One of them - that the league is clearly aware of - is that with the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Canada and renamed the Winnipeg Jets, you now have a team from Manitoba in the "Southeast" Division.

The good thing about this problem is that we now have an opportunity to really look at a few glaring issues in the way the divisions are set up and schedules are set.

Close to my heart is Dallas being in the "Pacific" division. Really? Is this punishment for the Cowboys being in the "East" for so long? Add in the hyper-division-focused scheduling, and with that setup, it is a challenge to see game after game start at 9 pm Central and end at midnight.

But with the new realignment needs, there is a chance of that being fixed.

One option - that is basically geographically based and one that solves most (but not all) of the issues, is this:

Pacific - Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, **Colorado**
Northwest - Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota, **Winnipeg**
Central - Detroit, Columbus, St. Louis, Chicago, **Dallas**

Southeast - Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington, **Nashville**
Atlantic - New Jersey, New York (Islanders), New York (Rangers), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
Northeast - Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, Ottowa

It gets Dallas out of having to travel TWO TIME ZONES to play "division" games.
It puts ALL teams in geographically close divisions.

The possible flies in the ointment? Detroit wants to get into the East (as does Columbus and Nashville).

The other thing that NEEDS to be done - and what could help address Detroit's situation - is change the schedule format. In a league that is trying to regain its place in the US sports landscape, using a format that makes it financially difficult on Western Conference teams and keeping fans of all teams from seeing all teams is just . . . well, indicative that the league isn't looking out for the success of the whole but rather the continued success of certain teams.

The NFL is the king of the hill for a reason. Yes, they have a few hanger-on franchises that don't really keep their product up to speed and just enjoy the revenue sharing money that comes in, but that is few and far between. Overall, it is the most healthy, financially strong, balanced and competitive league in the world.

The NHL ain't the NFL, but could take a few lessons from it and realize that the health and competitiveness of all franchises helps everyone have better crowds and television ratings - which means more $$$.

So those in the NHL who pull the strings - take a moment to think about the fact that you have had to move one franchise (and were lucky that you had a suitor for it) and that you have a few other teams that could use some help and others that could be even better than they are, and seriously think about these two issues. Making the right moves could help solidify one of the best sports in the world by making its best league more stable.

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