By Micah Akuezue, UCLA
Just like that, another NHL season has come to a close. Tim Thomas has claimed his Vezina trophy, the Green Men have stored away their spandex, and Don Cherry has stowed away his suits. Usually around this time, about a week before the free agency scramble begins on July 1, the only thing worth ruminating about is the Entry Draft — specifically who’s getting picked first — and why they decided to spread the first round over four hours. Due to the recent shakeup from franchise movement, however, a debate long dormant has risen once again: division and conference realignment.
The current system takes into account franchise movement in the last 20 years and expansion teams coming into existence. While it works on paper, a common complaint is that the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nashville Predators are subjected to long road trips when it comes to playing interdivisional games in the Western Conference.
Pursuant to my last post about the NHL, and in spirit and appeal to tradition, I’d like to offer my own solution to the issue of realignment. It is one that’s both practical, appeals to how the league looked before the NHL went to the Eastern and Western Conferences, and spreads some of the competition around. Consider it a vintage jersey for league alignment, akin to UM’s new “legacy jersey.”
Adam Division: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators
Patrick Division: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals
Norris Division: Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets
Smythe Division: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks
First of all, the divisions have to be geographically sound, minus the corny geographical names. The new Smythe Division, for instance, includes teams on the far western side North America, with all teams being within an hour of each other in terms of time zone — important for television deals.
The Norris Division, comprised of most of the Central Division (Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis), harkens back to the old Norris Division from the ’80s and early ’90s, including Winnipeg and “both” Minnesota franchises (the Wild and the Stars). Also, it manages to resurrect two old-school rivalries (Detroit-Toronto-Chicago — more on that later), all of which can potentially play six times every season.
The Patrick Division would consist of mostly southern-based teams, with Columbus and Nashville moving over from the west to the east, and including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, both maintaining geographical proximity, and preserving the rivalry between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and what might develop between Pittsburgh and Washington.
Finally, the Adam Division would be comprised of the rest of the northeastern teams, including the remaining three Original Six teams, as well as the four NY/NJ rival teams.
One more thing: to this I propose adding a fifth conference, one that really resurrects the NHL history and celebrates its heritage. It’d be based on the league make-up between 1942 and 1967. It wouldn’t be an official division on paper, and it wouldn’t merit any playoff berths, but would rather serve as a reservation during the regular season to have the Original Six teams play each other more often, and even wear their vintage jerseys more often. It could even eventually turn into an in-season tournament series, where the team with the best in-“division” record wins a tournament, or maybe a Heritage Classic could be developed around them.
Of course, the last suggestion probably won’t happen any time soon, although I, and many others, would like to see the Original Six play each other more often. The divisions, on the other hand, make a lot of sense, with recent rumor alluding to the possibility of a four-division league (albeit with an increased likelihood that Detroit moves to the East). Although change can be difficult to get used to, especially in a sport that worships tradition (they use the same championship trophy every year, after all), in this case, a change to tradition will be that much easier to get used to. When new phenomena become problematic, it’s usually best to look back to tradition, to history.