Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Guest Post: On Realignment




So, how about that realignment? Makes sense, right? Well, no.

Here’s the problem: it’s an attempt to fix a short term problem, with a long term solution. Let me explain.

Detroit wants to be in the east. It makes sense, since Detroit is in the Eastern Time zone. Playing games against conference opponents in the Pacific Time zone really sucks; if the game starts at the typical “7PM local” slot, this means it begins at 10pm in Detroit, and basically none of the Wings fans back home will stay up to watch a game that late on a school night. The same goes for Columbus, but nobody cares about the plight of Columbus because gosh darnit the Detroit Red Wings blah blah Original Six blah blah respect blah blah their “due”, etc.

Columbus is a team that is struggling financially, as well as on-ice. Perhaps some savings on jet fuel costs, as well as bringing in ye olde Eastern Conference superstars more often (Crosby, Ovechkin, et al) might help get butts in the seats. And really, if you can have Washington in the Southeast, you can sure as hell have Columbus there. More to the real point of realignment (of regionally grouped divisions) LOOK AT A GODDAMN MAP.

Some people think you should just throw Detroit into the Southeast Division and replace them with Winnipeg in the Central. Moving Nashville to the Southeast makes more sense geographically,  but also has The Time Zone Problem. Either one is a “quick fix” (which should, in theory, make it a temporary one) that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a medium- to long-term view. If you’re coming from the other cities in the Southeast, you have to pass closer to Columbus or Pittsburgh to get to Detroit; likewise Central Division teams would have to go past Minnesota to get to Winnipeg. As a quick fix, it’s fine (I guess) but under a little more scrutiny, it’s pretty dumb.

As you might have guessed at this point, I’m in favour of keeping the 6-division setup. With that in mind, let me explain why 4 divisions is a bad idea at this juncture, and particularly with the proposed implementation.

So what’s wrong with this? Well, aside from the odd shape out east (which can be entirely attributed to Philly and Pittsburgh not wanting to break up their division rivalry, plus the hope that putting the Florida teams in with the Canadian ones will attract more snowbirds to fill the arenas down south; like anyone can get a ticket in T.O, amirite?) it at least looks workable. It is a setup based on regionally grouped divisions, and conforms to time zones a lot more than the current setup (which is better for TV viewership).

It’s not the geography that I have a problem with – it’s the math.
30 teams split into 2 conferences of 2 divisions. Could sorta work if you go 15/15 for the conferences. But they didn’t. There are 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. So if you’re in the West, you have an 8-in-14 chance of being in the playoffs, and making that sweet, sweet playoff cash-ola. In the East, it’s 8-in-16, so if you’re a shitty team, your odds of making the playoffs just got a bit worse.

Not to mention the scheduling. How the hell is that going to work?
We know the league wants to have each team in the league play at least a home-and-home against one another. If you keep that in mind, and try to keep the schedule relatively balanced, the closest I can get is something like, 84 regular season games for Western teams and 86 or 88 games for Eastern. So obviously they are going to do some kind of dickery where you play “Divisional Team X”, 5 times this season, and then it rotates teams over 6 or 7 years. Seriously?

Now, here’s the real reason why this whole thing is short-sighted: expansion.
Suffice it to say, 4 divisions works a lot better for a 32 team league. I’d be more accepting of an alignment like this, if it was clearly in anticipation of a projected/expected expansion. Ohhhh, let’s say… the Quebec Nordiques and Waterloo Blackberries join the league in the next 10 years. And we’ll assume the Coyotes move from Phoenix to Seattle.

Uh oh. That makes 18 teams in the East and still only 14 in the West. Guess what, kids? Methinks Detroit and Columbus will have to get booted back to the West to make it 16/16. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So what’s the solution? More visual aids!

As you can see, we’re shuffling 4 teams instead of just 2, but we also work towards the goal of getting the divisions more time zone-oriented. Dallas has complained about the travel and TV start times relating to having divisional opponents 2 time zones away; if you add Winnipeg to the Northwest, it doesn’t make sense to keep Vancouver there, for exactly the same reasons. Keep in mind, Detroit has this same gripe about conference opponents, which you play less than those within your division.

This is what we end up with:

So, how about the scheduling? Yes, I’ve put some thought into that too, and here’s what I’ve come up with.
·         84 game regular season
·         6 games against Divisional opponents
·         4 games against one other division in your conference, 2 games against the third division in your conference (alternating every year)
·         2 games against each team in the other conference (home-and-home)

Bam. You’re welcome.

Since the Red Wings fans are gonna be bitching about being stuck in the West still, I drew up a travel plan for their “worst case scenario”; the season where you play 4 games against the Pacific Division. Road trip map!

(And to toot my own horn, the friggin’ NHL didn’t even put this into their initial realignment pitch, prior to the lockout.)

So, what you end up with is a nine-game and a ten-game road trip. After which, you don’t play the Northwest or Pacific teams again all season. Done. Hell, if you play the Anaheim and L.A. games back-to-back on weekends (starting sometime between noon and 4pm) you could even get the hometown TV viewership you want.

There you have it folks, a medium-term solution for a medium-term problem. We got Winnipeg into the West, Columbus into the East, and we fixed some of the travel and time zone problems of the existing 6-division set up. Didn’t even mess with the Northeast or Atlantic divisions at all. Now, what the NHL should do next, is work on a 4-division alignment that actually takes scheduling and expansion into consideration; a long-term solution for a long-term problem.


With the alignment and 84-game scheduling I propose, Detroit would play just over 2/3 (or 4/6) of their games (including home games) in the Eastern Time Zone. By comparison, for Eastern Conference teams (including Columbus) it would work out to 5/6 of their games.

Not too bad.
If you add Central Time Zone teams (i.e. Detroit's divisional rivals, plus Winnipeg and Minnesota) the average increases to just over 5/6, or 9/10 for Eastern Conference teams. Not too shabby.



  1. I know, I'm so demanding.
    I also apologize for the typo(s).

    Thanks again, DB!

  2. Also, the last image pre-addendum is the wrong one. Heh.

    ...I'll shut up now.