NHL Realignment Project – Week 33

NHL Realignment Project - Week 33

All the People, All the Time 

Okay, our short-lived happiness (or hatred for many others) of having finally gotten a bold new NHL that accentuates rivalries tries something new and isn’t just and NBA-on-ice is over and done with. Yes, we understand a good chunk of the purpose behind the plan in the first place was to act as a veiled first salvo against the NHLPA in the forthcoming CBA renegotiation… and begrudgingly I have to admit that it was a pretty brilliant calculation by the billionaires getting them the ever-elusive “win-win situation” against the millionaires. But whatever the reasons/ploys/shenanigans (for both the proposal and rejection) NHL realignment is where it is now… a necessary ingredient for future NHL success that is in more treacherous waters than ever AND now with tons of declared “issues” that one side or the other doesn’t want to have included.

So where do we go from here?

My seething anger at the snafu in general, and more specifically, the dark CBA implications that it foreshadows has died down a bit in the last 24 hours and  I’m ready to continue with the NHLRP. This week I’m gonna root my efforts in reality and do my very best to please all the people (we’re supposedly able to do this some of the time, no?).

I’ve cut out the BS, and sold the Phoenix franchise to suitors from Quebec City. The NHL (the league office, that is) is no longer in the business of running teams. If you’re an owner and want out, you find a buyer and you sell. If you can’t, your team is auctioned, and if necessary moved to a new city… and we do the re-alignment dance again.

The basis of this week’s map is this: there are TWO CONFERENCES made up of FIVE DIVISIONS each. Your principal job as a team in the new NHL is to win your division… basically, have a better record than the other two teams in your division and you’re in to the playoffs. The in-division hatred and rivalry will be amped up beyond belief with 8 games versus each of your two division-mates each season. To satisfy the “But wait, I’m in a stronger conference—boo-hoo” camp, if you don’t win your division, there are three wild-card spots in each conference available to sneak in you into the playoffs too. More on all this later. First let’s look at the map.


The Map:

NHL Realignment Map - Week 33

NHL Realignment Map - Week 33


The Breakdown:

Again, we have two conferences, named after (arguably) the best defenseman and the best forward of all time, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. In something more akin to the pod structure we’ve featured in a few past NHLRP entires, the conferences are divided into very small divisions of three teams each. In addition to being all equal in size (addressing one of the grumblings of the NHLPA and others in the now-dead plan), these smaller conferences lend themselves to a much better scheduling/travel structure as we’ll see in a bit as well (addressing an issue both sides have sited). Here is how the teams fit into the divisions. I tried my best to keep geographic and traditional rivals together (this one is mostly for the fans).

The Wayne Gretzky Conference The Bobby Orr Conference
Northwest Northeast
Calgary Flames Boston Bruins
Edmonton Oilers Montreal Canadiens
Vancouver Canucks Quebec Nordiques
Central North
Colorado Avalanche Buffalo Sabres
Minnesota Wild Ottawa Senators
Winnipeg Jets Toronto Maple Leafs
Heartland Empire
Chicago Blackhawks New Jersey Devils
Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders
Detroit Red Wings New York Rangers
Pacific Mid-Atlantic
Anaheim Ducks Philadelphia Flyers
Los Angeles Kings Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks Washington Capitals
South Southeast
Dallas Stars Carolina Hurricanes
Nashville Predators Florida Panthers
St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning

Gained teams:

Quebec City


Lost teams:



The Benefits:

• Scheduling/Travel — Listen up, NHL and PA (and you too, Red Wings and Stars)! Here is the solution the biggest issue of the day (besides the egos of many of the combatants in the forthcoming CBA battle):

3-team divisions mean that the season is made up of 3 things:

  • Divisional Play:
    • Home-and-home series against divisional opponents
  • Play outside of your Division:
    • 3-game road trips (each trip is against all three teams in a single division)
    • 3-game home-stands (same thing as above except at home)
– It’s simple enough for fans, players and owners to grasp.
– Road trips are reasonably short, and as an added bonus, the travel from game-to-game during each a road trip isn’t too bad since divisions are “reasonably small” in geographic scope.
– Everyone loves home-and-home series which mean to 120+ minutes of game-time agains “those same bastards” in a very few days (PIMs galore!). Toss in the fact that “those bastards” are who you are in essence, fighting against for a spot in the playoffs, and you play each of your two division-mates eight times(!) per season, those games will be more intense then we can imagine.
– Oh, and every team plays every other team both home and away (Something the NHL and the fans wanted). See the Schedule Breakdown section a little further down the page for even more on the sublime simplicity (and “you can’t argue against this-ness”) of the plan. By the way, if you need someone to write a program that will whip out a sample schedule (another of the NHLPA’s beefs, I know a guy… just send us a slice of your millions and billions and consider it done.

• Fairness — Unlike the  NHLPA, I don’t subscribe to the “the teams in the 7-team conferences have are more likely to make the playoffs” argument (listen, you are more likely to qualify for the post-season in an awful 8-team conference than a really competitive 7-team conference), but this point is moot now anyways. This new plan calls for all teams play in equal-sized divisions with the same coin-flip percentage of making the playoffs, so everyone is happy, right? Additionally, with the “escape hatch” of there being three wild-card spots available to the non-division champs with the three best records, and there should be no whining.

• Rivalries —  The majority of the principal divisional rivalries are preserved. PIT/PHI, the 3 NYC-area teams, DET/CHI, MTL/BOS, the 3 California teams, the 3 Western Canada teams are all keep alive and well.

• Homage/Heritage — We get to name the two Conferences after two great players who I hear are great guys as well. (Plus with 10 divisions mostly having directional names, I wasn’t about to throw two more directional names into the mix)

• John Williams — With a division named “Empire”, there definately be a lot of in-arena playing of Vader’s theme from Star Wars. Bahn-bahn-bahn, bahn-BA-duh, bahn-BA-dah!!



Each team plays all it’s non-divisional opponents once at home and once on the road: 2 games x 27 teams = 54 games (played in three-game road trips to a single division, and three-game home-stands against a single division)

Each team plays its in-division opponents four times at home and four times on the road: 8 games x 2 teams = 16 games (played in home-and-home series)

Each team plays another set of games against the three teams from two divisions in their same conference: 2 games x 6 teams = 12 games (again, played in a three-game road trip and three-game home-stand (which divisions you play rotates each year, complete in 2-year cycles)


54 games + 16 games + 12 games = 82 games

Pretty simple. It doesn’t completely keep Detroit and Columbus from having to make long in-conference road trips, but the trips are shorter in duration and more logistically sensible. Plus, as far as non-Eastern Time Zone road-trips go, the Wings and Jackets would only have two more of those than they would have Eastern Time Zone road-trips. The Stars, Ducks, Kings and Sharks no longer have to deal with a divisional opponent two time zones away either. Two MAJOR scheduling issues resolved! If they gave out Nobel Prizes for this kind of work… I’d like your support during the process, everyone. If a Nobel Prize is outta the question, I’d settle for life-time tickets to the Stanley Cup finals……….. or some backlinks.



Playoff qualification is now a reward for hard-earned divisional championships with three wildcards available for the “fell-just short” teams. While this is a bit different, the structure of the playoffs themselves is pretty much what we currently have (addressing yet another major concern of many players, teams, fans).

• 5 division winners from each conference qualify for the playoffs (seeded #1-#5 by record)

• 3 best records amongst the non-division winners in each conference are awarded wild-card spots (seeded #6-#8 by record)

• Round One: Conference Quarterfinals — #1 vs #8, #2 vs #7, #3 vs #6, #4 vs #5

• Round Two: Conference Semifinals — Highest seed vs lowest seed, 2nd highest vs 2nd lowest

• Round Three: Conference Finals

• Round Four: Stanley Cup Finals

• All series best-of-seven (2-2-1-1-1 format, with highest seeded team (not necessarily best record) with home-ice advantage)


The Closing Argument:

NHL is just better when divisions mean more than conferences. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you exhibit A in this argument: The NFL… and exhibit B: The NBA. It makes infinitely more sense for teams to identify with their own division and rally against division-mates in epic struggles to qualify for the playoffs, than to think of them as just another few teams to deal with in a vague quest against 14 other teams for one of 8 spots.

In short, we’d rather have teams claw, scratch and fight for 5 division crowns (with 3 consolation prizes), than meander through a season in search of one of 8 prizes (3 of which have a lil’ bonus attached).


*Drops Mic*


(H/T to oilersnation.com for the original map)


Don’t forget to share our lil’ project with your hockey fan friends. And, as always, thanks for reading. Until next Sunday!

— TF

Make sure to check out the entire NHL Realignment Project ».

NHL Realignment Project – Week 28

NHL Realignment Project - Week 28

Gary Christmas!

Good news! So word from the ‘internets’ is that our buddy Gary has a proposal that is in front of the NHL Board of Governors that is gaining a little momentum. (There is actually a second one known as the “simple plan” that just swaps Detroit for Winnipeg and washes it’s hands, but we won’t even dignify that one with one of our lil’ maps.)

Gary’s plan is eerily similar to last week’s plan, but does have a few surprises. Any movement in a sensible direction away from the current alignment is happy news indeed. Let’s look at the map then break it down.


The “Alleged” Map (conference names added by me):

NHL Realignment Map - Week 28

Gary Bettman's NHL Realignment Map


The Breakdown:

The league goes to four conferences. The two westernmost conferences have eight teams each, leaving the remaining conferences with seven each. The Penguins/Flyers rivalry is preserved (which was a concern with some other plans floating around over the last month) and no team has to travel over more than one time zone for intra-conference games. Additionally, the four-conference format supposedly leads to each team playing one home and one away game against all non-confernce opponents and the rest are against conference rivals (plus a few extras to even things out somehow). All in all, I have to say,  “Not bad, G-man.”……….. whoa, that felt weird.


Western Conference Central Conference
1. Anaheim Ducks 1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. Calgary Flames 2. Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Colorado Avalanche 3. Dallas Stars
4. Edmonton Oilers 4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Los Angeles Kings 5. Minnesota Wild
6. Phoenix Coyotes 6. Nashville Predators
7. San Jose Sharks 7. St. Louis Blues
8. Vancouver Canucks 8. Winnipeg Jets
Eastern Conference Atlantic Conference
1. Boston Bruins 1. Carolina Hurricanes
2. Buffalo Sabres 2. New Jersey Devils
3. Florida Panthers 3. New York Islanders
4. Montreal Canadiens 4. New York Rangers
5. Ottawa Senators 5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Tampa Bay Lightning 6. Pittsburgh Penguins
7. Toronto Maple Leafs 7. Washington Capitals


The Benefits:

• Heritage — Every conference has at several Stanley Cup winners, three of four have Original Six teams (the fourth has a ’67 Expansion team). As an added benefit, any reasonable playoff format will not eliminate the chance for an Original Six Stanley Cup Finals matchup.

• Travel and TV start times — No division spans more than two time zones. Travel burdens are lessened and fans of traveling teams have less frequent late-start (and later finish) times to contend with. Teams in what I’m calling the Eastern Conference have a bit of a longer commute with the inclusion of the Florida teams, but that just makes things a little more equitable as compared to the westernmost conferences (yes, the Atlantic has a bit of a “nearness advantage” but if that’s our biggest problem, I’m okay with it)

• Rivalries —  We’ve keep almost all major traditional rivalries intact. As noted above, the PIT/PHI issue has been resolved. This plan also allows DET/CHI to continue as intra-division opponents. Not to mention: NJD/NYI/NYR, BOS/MTL, MTL/TOR/OTT, CGY/EDM/VAN, MIN/CHI, SJS/LAK/ANH and FLA/TBL. Throw in some interesting new rivalries that are created (PIT/WSH, DAL/NSH/STL (what? the lower mid-west needs something)), and we’ve got ourselves an interesting thing going.



Other than the fact that everyone will play at least one home and at least one away game against everyone, I’ve get to get much in the way of details from the scheduling standpoint. To borrow again from last week’s realignment plan here’s how I would do it:

Conferences with 7 Teams:

  • Versus 6 in-conference rivals — 4 games (24 total)
  • Versus teams in the other 7-team conference — 2 games (14 total)
  • Versus 16 teams in the both of the remaining two conferences — 2 games (32 total)
  • Versus 8 teams in just one of those two 8-team conferences (rotating back and forth each year) — 2 more games (16 total)
  • 24+14+32+16 = 86 games


Conferences with 8 Teams:

  • Versus 7 in-conference rivals — 4 games (28 total)
  • Versus 8 teams in the other 8-team conference — 2 games (16 total)
  • Versus 14 teams in the both of the remaining two conferences — 2 games (28 total)
  • Versus 7 teams in just one of those two 7-team conferences (rotating back and forth each year) — 2 games (14 total)
  • 28+16+28+14 = 86 games



The supposed playoff format is as follows:

• Top four teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs

• The first two rounds are conference playoffs (like the divisional rounds in the 80’s).

– Conference Semifinals — #1 vs #4 and #2 vs #3

– Conference Finals — Semifinal winners faceoff

• Third round is a “Final Four” type matchup. Not sure if there is a “reseeding” that happens, or something (more awesome) like my proposed “team with the best record picks which final four opponent they want” plan. It’ll be interesting to see if Gary’s plan is something like this or if it just locks two conferences together always (honestly, this makes things more like the conference/division breakdown we currently have… boo).

• Fourth round is the Stanley Cup Finals pitting the last two teams standing against each other for the greatest trophy in all of sport (anyone arguing this point is a delusional idiot).


That’s all I’ve got this week. Sorry for the delay, as I had Godfatherly duties this weekend baptizing my Godson. We should be back on track next Sunday.


(H/T to oilersnation.com for the original map)


Don’t forget to share our lil’ project with your hockey fan friends. And, as always, thanks for reading. Until next Sunday!

— TF

Make sure to check out the entire NHL Realignment Project ».



As you all know by now, this is the plan that passed, so removed all the “allegedly” adjectives from the above post and we’re good. I have to say, I’m impressed by the BOG for actually doing something big and not playing it safe. The plan isn’t perfect (no plan is… that’s the real point of this NHL Realignment Project in the end), but at least they went big and finally Gary finally showed us that he isn’t all about making the NHL into the NBA on ice.


NHL Realignment Project – Week 27

NHL Realignment Project - Week 27

Dear, Gary 

Consider this week’s week’s entry an open letter to Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors. I’ve completely grounded this realignment plan in reality. As mundane as that may seem compared to some of the admittedly farcical entries over the last six months, with the BOG meetings coming up soon, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. This is a really huge entry, so grab a drink and settle in.

Esteemed Board of Governers and Commissioner Bettman:

We the fans of the National Hockey League, and I, Thomas J. Fulery, the Internet’s (un)official voice of NHL realignment, humbly ask that you take our realignment plan under serious consideration as you meet on the 5th and 6th of December.

This plan is fair, it relieves stresses for teams that have been stuck in unfortunate division situations for years, honors two of the games greats AND keeps rivalries intact. It is a synthesis of systems that have been proven to popular in the past with systems that have worked well more recently. Geography and travel burdens have been taken into account as well as the realities of the potential changes in landscape over the next two-three years.

First, let’s have a look at the map, the breakdown, the benefits and the logistics. Following these, we share some contingencies that will future-proof this plan, leaving the league ready to absorb whatever changes come its way in the foreseeable future.

The Map (click anywhere on the map to enlarge):

NHL Realignment Map - Week 27

The Realigned NHL 2012-2013

The Breakdown:

The league retains it’s current two conference setup,but each conference is split into only two divisions. Conferences are named for (arguably) greatest offensive and defensive players in the history of the game, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, respectively. Divisions leverage geography for their naming. The table below shows the leagues setup and also illustrates heritage spread across the divisions with at least three Stanely Cup winners (*) and at least one Original Six (†) or ’67 Expansion (#) team in each of the four divisions.

The Wayne Gretzky Conference (14 teams)
Western Division Central Division
1. Anaheim Ducks * 1. Chicago Blackhawks *†
2. Calgary Flames * 2. Colorado Avalanche *
3. Edmonton Oilers * 3. Dallas Stars *#
4. Los Angeles Kings # 4. Minnesota Wild
5. Phoenix Coyotes 5. Nashville Predators
6. San Jose Sharks 6. St. Louis Blues #
7. Vancouver Canucks 7. Winnipeg Jets
The Bobby Orr Conference (16 teams)
Northern Division Eastern Division
1. Boston Bruins *† 1. Buffalo Sabres
2. Detroit Red Wings* † 2. Carolina Hurricanes *
3. Montreal Canadiens *† 3. Columbus Blue Jackets
4. New Jersey Devils * 4. Florida Panthers
5. New York Islanders * 5. Philadelphia Flyers *#
6. New York Rangers *† 6. Pittsburgh Penguins *#
7. Ottawa Senators 7. Tampa Bay Lightning *
8. Toronto Maple Leafs *† 8. Washington Capitals


The Benefits:

• Heritage — As mentioned above every division has at several Stanley Cup winners and at least one Original Six or ’67 Expansion team.

• Travel and TV start times — No division spans more than two time zones. Travel burdens are lessened and fans of traveling teams have less frequent late-start (and later finish) times to contend with.

• Rivalries —  Though we do lose Chicago and Detroit as division rivals, we maintain every other traditional/geographic rivalry (PIT/PHI, BOS/MTL, CGY/EDM, CHI/MIN etc). Additionally we create many new natural ones (PHI/WSH, PIT/BUF, DET/TOR, DAL/STL, DAL/COL, NYR/BOS, etc)



To accomodate the following schedule set up, the league will have to expand the season by four games leaving us with 86. Teams would play every other team in the league at least once at home and at least once on the road. Teams would play teams within their division four times per season and teams outside of their division once at home and once on the road. Additionally, each year, at team would play another home-and-away series against all the teams in a single division in the opposite conference.


Gretzky Conference Teams:

  • Versus 6 in-division rivals — 4 games (24 total)
  • Versus 7 non-division Gretzky Conference Teams — 2 games (14 total)
  • Versus 16 non-conference opponents in a both divisions — 2 games (32 total)
  • Versus 8 non-conference opponents in a single division (rotating back and forth each year) — 2 games (16 total)
  • 24+14+32+16 = 86 games


Orr Conference Teams:

  • Versus 7 in-division rivals — 4 games (28 total)
  • Versus 8 non-division Gretzky Conference Teams — 2 games (16 total)
  • Versus 14 non-conference opponents in a both divisions — 2 games (28 total)
  • Versus 7 non-conference opponents in a single division (rotating back and forth each year) — 2 games (14 total)
  • 28+16+28+14 = 86 games



The post-season breaks down as follows:

  • The 1st-4th place teams in each division qualify for the playoffs
  • The first and second rounds of the playoffs determine division champions (first round matchups: 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3) and yield a “final four”
  • The third round of the playoffs serves as the Conference Championships and yield the Stanley Cup finalists
  • The fourth round of the playoffs is the Stanley Cup Finals yielding the year’s NHL Champion


That is our plan for the 2011-2012 NHL Season.


Mapping the future potential directions of the NHL:

The next two maps look at very possible scenarios that the NHL may be faced with in the near future. The franchise in Phoenix is foremost in the minds of fans, but future movement may also happen. Speaking for myself, I would prefer that no additional relocations take place and that expansion be the route that brings (or returns) the NHL to cities currently without them (see the entire NHL Realignment Project for those scenarios). But the reality is that Phoenix needs attention and at least two cities in the NHL have the necessary facilities, the necessary fan base or both to make this franchise a success.
This first scenario, takes the 2011-2012 map proposed above and shows how alignment would look if the Phoenix franchise were purchased and moved to Kansas City. Realignment would be minimal with Colorado moving west to replace Phoenix in the Western Division and Kansas City taking the vacated spot in the Central Division. KC has an NHL-ready arena and a built-in natural rival in the St. Louis Blues. Neither logistics nor the structure would be altered from the system we described above. Here is the map:
NHL Realignment Map - Week 27 (PHX-to-KC)

The NHL Realigned - Near Future (PHX-to-KC)

The second scenario takes the same 2011-2012 map we presented earlier and shows how alignment would look if the Phoenix franchise were purchased and relocated to Quebec City. Quebec has a passionate fan base ready to reclaim their position in the NHL (not to mention their rivalry with the Habs). Realignment would be a bit more complex than the Kansas City model, but still quite feasible. Quebec would be part of the Northern Division, Columbus would move across our conference divide into the Central Division, claiming the spot made vacant by Colorado’s move to the Western Division, in turn filling the void made by Phoenix’s move to Quebec. Detroit complete realignment with a move to the Eastern Division to keep both Orr Conferences at eight teams and maintaining the logistics/structure we outlined above.
NHL Realignment Map - Week 27 (PHX-to-QBC)

The NHL Realigned - Near Future (PHX-to-QBC)

In sum, this is the collected and recommended thoughts on NHL realignment and potential relocation(s) from the NHL Realignment Project. In the coming weeks, we will continue our exercise of mapping out potential scenarios for the shape, size and structure of (y)our beloved NHL.


Thank you for your time and attention.

— Thomas J. Fulery (and the fans of the NHL)


(H/T to oilersnation.com for the original map)


As always, thanks for reading (especially you, Gary). Until next Sunday!

— TF

Make sure to check out the entire NHL Realignment Project ».