According to hockey writer Nick Cotsonika, the NHL is planning on a major realignment of teams which will go into effect at the beginning of the 2012/13 season. We all knew something like this had to happen because of the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, but it appears the entire landscape of the league will look much different after this season. According to the Tweet, the NHL will use four time-zone based divisions, two will have eight teams, and the other two will have seven. This is an interesting idea, because each conference will only have two divisions as opposed to three, and will most likely end up with a change for the ridiculous rule where division winners are guaranteed the top spots in the standings, even when non division-winning teams have more points than them. To get further into detail would be a waste at this time.
Below is a list of groupings I have created just so we can get an idea of what this will look like. The east coast will look very different, with teams switching divisions, and some teams moving from the west, where they never belonged to begin with. You will notice that there are some problems, however, and you can see that there are three excess teams that do fit, but create problems.
Group One (8): Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators
Group Two (6): Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators
Group One (7): Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche
Group Two (6): Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild
East Coast: Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning
These groupings make the most sense, but I left out the Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers just because putting them in the East right now, where they obviously belong, would be overflowing not only that conference, but Group One as well, since they belong with the other Atlantic teams. You will notice that the Red Wings, Blue Jackets, and Predators move to the east, since they are technically eastern teams, being on that side of the Mississippi River, the dividing line of the US and “Gateway to the West”. The Panthers are one team that should relocate anyway, but the Lightning have had success where they are, and will not move—the same goes for the Hurricanes. Though it would be a dream come true if the NHL would shrink down to 28 teams, where they were before the last expansion, it is probably not going to happen. It is possible, however, to return to the nostalgic tradition of naming the divisions after former legendary hockey players, like it used to be in the early 1990′s (with Smyth, Patrick, etc). That was really special and unique to the league, and could orient newer fans with past history.
Overall, it will be tricky figuring this out, but I like the overall idea of time-zone based standings, which is what they are going for. Please, if anyone has any ideas on how to reshape the league further, leave a comment in the area below.