Thursday, March 14, 2013

NHL Realignment: Winners, losers, and other thoughts

By GTOG Staff

The NHL Board of Governors approved a realignment plan today.  It will go into effect next season.  Here it is.

Division A and B are the "Western Conference" and Division C and D are the "Eastern Conference."  Under the new plan, the top 3 teams in each division will make the playoffs, and then the remaining two teams with the best record in each conference will claim "wild-card" spots.  The division winner in each conference with the best record will play the lowest wild-card in the conference; the other division winner will play the other wild-card team.  The #2 finisher in a division will play the #3 finisher from the same division. The winner of that series plays the winner of the series involving the division winner. During the regular season, the Pens will play each team Division D either 4 or 5 times (rotates by year), each team in Division C 3 times per year, and each team in the Western Conference twice.

Got it?
Our quick thoughts after the jump...

- The biggest problem we have with this is the unbalanced conferences.  Teams in Division C and D have a 50% chance of making the playoffs; teams in Divisions A and B have a 57% chance of making the playoffs.  The owners signed off on this, so they aren't really in a position to complain, but suffice it to say that if we owned the Tampa Bay Lightning, we would think it's a little bit unfair (about 7% unfair) that the owners of Anaheim were taking the same financial risks with a 7% greater chance at more rewards.

But again -- they agreed to it, and it's not our money, so we don't really care about this, other than that it means the Pens have a tougher road to the playoffs than teams out West.  This may not seem like a problem now, but the Pens will not always be this good.  Some years, the Pens might be fighting for that 8th spot.

- From a Pens-centric perspective, this reeks of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The Pens have nothing to complain about under the current setting.  The rivalries and playoffs (53.3% chance of making the playoffs) work out perfectly.

- But other cities were complaining.  We get it.  It sucks when your road games start at 9 or 10pm every night.  Get a DVR or move the island like they did on Lost.

- The winners: Dallas, Winnipeg, and Columbus.  Not only will their games start at reasonable times at reasonable distances away, but they're now around areas where they can build rivalries.  It sucks to see the Winnipeg-Florida rivalry go away, but that's a cost of doing business.  Pittsburgh-Columbus will be fun.  Detroit in the same division as the Pens would have been funner.

- The complainers either way: Detroit.  Did you know that 10 out of 10 Red Wings fans believe that they should get 82 home games a year against the opponents of their liking, at the times chosen by a majority of their fans, and with refs handpicked by Ken Holland?

- The losers: With the obvious caveat that things change as rosters change, one big loser IOO (in our opinion) is the Washington Capitals.  Their crappy division -- Tampa, Florida, Carolina, Winnipeg/Atlanta -- was the biggest competitive advantage they had.  Now they have a diminished mathematical chance at the playoffs, are competing against PGH/PHI/NYR ("destination" markets for free agents), the Devils (arguably best run organization in the league), and Carolina (the best organization from their old division).  It's not that much worse for the Caps, but it sure isn't getting any easier than they setup they have now.

Not that easy right now.
- Our proposal: Move Florida to Seattle and go back to 3 divisions of 5 teams each.

Ultimately, we don't feel that strongly about realignment.  We're worried that we could see the same playoff match-ups every year (great if you have that team's number, terrible if you don't).  The wild-card seeding seems to alleviate some of that, but even that seems a little messy.  We give realignment one thumb sideways and the other thumb whatever.

There is, however, one way to redeem it all.  Name the divisions after all time greats.  The Gretzky Division (Division A).  The Roy Division (Division B).  The Orr Division (Division C).  And, of course, the Mario Division (Division D).

Not the Lemieux Division.  The Mario Division.

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