NHL Needs to Get “Krakin’” on Realignment

With the Seattle Kraken — named after a sea monster in Scandinavian folklore featured in the Disney movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, produced by Jerry Bruckenheimer, who will own the team, making their debut as an NHL expansion team this fall — the league will henceforth have 32 teams.

This situation cries out for realignment of the NHL into four four-team divisions in each conference, as large divisions in sports are as outdated as dances like the Charleston, the Big Apple, and the Continental, and expressions like "Twenty-three skidoo," "Oh bodie-oh-doh," and "Kiss me later, I'm eatin' a potato," as Ralph Kramden said in a particularly iconic episode of The Honeymooners.

What might such a realigned National Hockey League look like?

It would be extremely difficult for any owner to find this alignment objectionable:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division — New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia

Northeast Division — Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Washington

Central Division — Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg

Southeast Division — Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay

Western Conference

Midwest Division — Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota

Southwest Division — Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis

Northwest Division — Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, Vancouver

Pacific Division — Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vegas

Then there is the matter of the regular-season schedule: A two-game increase to 84 games (in 1992-93 and 1993-94 the league actually played an 84-game schedule — and if two games need to be chopped off the exhibition; oops, I mean preseason, schedule, then so be it). This time around, each team would play 16 games within their division (one division rival six times and the other two five times), 36 games against the teams in the other three divisions of the same conference (playing each such team three times), and 32 games outside the conference (two meetings per team).

And having virtually all teams in the same conference play an odd number of games against each other also greatly simplifies the tie-breaking procedures in the event that two teams finish with the same number of points, since head-to-head would always break the tie if most wins did not.

And last, and most certainly not least, are the playoffs: for years, the owners have bandied about the idea of expanding the playoff field from 16 teams (where it has been since the 1979-80 season) to 20, thus restoring the two-thirds ratio that prevailed during the hallowed "Original Six" era, which will warm the heart of the sport's "purists" — if anything can.

In addition, adopting the NBA's playoff format from this season has much to be said in its favor: That consists of having the 7-seed hosting the 8-seed, with the winner entering the playoffs proper as the seventh seed. Concomitantly, the 9-seed hosts the 10-seed, the winner visiting the loser of the 7-8 game, and the winner there entering the main playoff draw as the eighth seed (the four division winners in each conference earning the top four seeds, the four second-place teams the fifth through eighth seeds, and the ninth and 10th seeds going to the next two teams with the best records).

This arrangement makes division rivalries really mean something — and since the days of fighting in hockey are pretty much over, there should be little threat of the public-relations problems caused by bench-clearing brawls and the like, which the owners claimed were more likely to occur in same-division games.

And the fans are sure to like this alignment a lot more than the existing one.

Comments and Conversation

July 12, 2021

Mike Hansen:

Swap Winnipeg and Detroit and your realignment would be great

March 2, 2022

Anthony Brancato:

Mike: Your idea would be more “geographically correct” - but the concept of an entire division consisting of all Canadian teams is what I ran with.

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