Now that Mike Illitch has come out and announced that he has been promised a move for his Red Wing team, the topic will gather steam leading in to the December Board of Governors. The NHL admits it in need of an overhaul of its conference and divisions, and it does so knowing that some teams and some fans won’t like the final outcome. That said; here are one man’s thoughts on what the NHL should do with its 30 teams.
The first thing it should do is shelve the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Clarence Campbell Bowl. Heck, the players rarely want to touch the trophies en route to the Stanley Cup final. I don’t think the Prince of Wales (who I haven’t met) or the late Mr. Campbell (who I did meet) would mind.
The second thing that should happen, is that everyone should admit that Dallas is truly a long way from everywhere in the hockey world. That’s not a slight at Dallas, it is a geographic fact.
With those things in mind, I give you NHL 3.0!
(The 3 is for the divisions that are created, the 0 is for the chance of it occurring.)
THE WESTERN DIVISION: Gretzky Division
THE NORTHERN DIVISION: Orr Division
THE EASTERN DIVISION: Lemieux Division
Each team would play four games in its own division: 36 Games
Each team would play home and home with the other two divisions: 40 Games
Yes, that’s a 76 game schedule … and we would cut preseason down to five games maximum.
The four top teams in each division would make the playoffs, while the eight teams with the best record in the league would play a short (3 of 5 series) to make it to the real playoffs.
The 16 remaining teams would be seeded 1 to 16 (with built in tie-breakers) to ensure that the two best teams play for the Stanley Cup.
This system accomplishes a lot.
1. It does respect Mike Illitch’s desire to have his Wings with teams in the Eastern Time Zone.
2. It grows the playoff pool.
3. It maintains most regional rivalries.
4. It neutralizes travel as much as possible, which is to say that every division has some major travel, as well as some easy trips (some would say it spreads out the agony).
5. It makes shootout and overtime games important every night, rather than just in your own conference.
6. It builds on rivalries that fans in other sports understand (Dallas with Washington, Philadelphia and New York, like the NFL).
7. It allows the league to honour three more great players (Orr,Lemieux,Gretzky) without creating three more trophies, and if desired removes the geographical names.
8. It comes as part of a new CBA, which will help ensure players and owners get an appropriate piece of the pie.
9. It guarantees that every team will play in every building, every year.
10. And while the divisional rivalries are strong, it places new importance of all rivalries as the regular season winds down to conclusion.
Is this the be-all and end-all? Probably not. But it might just help the hockey establishment think outside the box. Between now and the December meetings, there will be a great many of these proposals. I don’t envy Gary Bettman’s challenge of trying to keep 30 owners, the players and the game’s fans all happy.
I suppose the biggest goal would be to keep MOST owners, MOST players and MOST fans happy.