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On Realignment February 27, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I saw the NHL’s proposal for realignment. If you haven’t seen it, the gist of it is, instead of 6 divisions of 5, the NHL goes to two divisions of 8 in the East, and two divisions of 7 in the West.  Top four teams from each division play down to division champion; division teams battle it out for the conference; conference winners play for the Stanley Cup.

It would be an elegant format, if only the league had 32 teams.  As it stands, it would be easier to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference, and harder to make it in for the East.

Frankly, I think that’s overcooking that particular casserole.  You could keep the 6-division alignment by putting Winnipeg into the Northwest (keeping the Canadian teams together), Minnesota into the Central (since it’s just up the pike from Chicago), and Columbus into the Southeast.

Wait…Columbus, in the Southeast?  Actually, if you look, Columbus is closer to Raleigh and Washington than Nashville; and even though it’s further from Florida, the Jackets could hit both the Panthers and Lightning on the same road swing and call it done.  Columbus is also on Eastern time; Nashville, on Central.

I know the Red Wings won’t like it, but Columbus is further east.  Outside the NFL, which puts more emphasis on history than on geography, Columbus to Pittsburgh may be one of the shortest distances between two conferences in all of professional sports.

And no, that does not mean Columbus to the Atlantic.  With the Hudson Valley Three, and the Keystone Rivalry, the Atlantic is as good as it could be (without Washington being in it, that is.)  What, do you put the Flyers in the Southeast?  Um…no.  There’s just too much history along I-76 to just split it up like that.  The Southeast is enough of a hodgepodge already, so that’s the easiest place to put the Jackets.

That would be the best way to do it:  move Winnipeg into a Canada-heavy division, shift a team on the cusp (Minnesota) into the next division over, and from there, move an Ohio team into–wait for it–the Eastern Conference.  I would guess that, given a choice, Jets fans would rather travel more if it meant a more Canada-heavy schedule:  ergo, Northwest.  But the Avalanche have to stay put in that scenario, so Minnesota would move into the same division as Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis (oh, hi there, Nashville.)  That would put the Jackets into the East, and in the interest of keeping the Atlantic together, Columbus would then go into the Southeast.

Now, if they really did end up going with four divisions only, they really would need to have some way for Eastern Conference teams to not have to beat four division teams instead of three.  Here’s one way to do it:

*Top THREE teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs.
*Top Eastern wild card takes the 4 spot in its own division.
*Second highest Eastern Wild card takes the remaining 4 spot in the East, regardless of division.
*Top Western wild card takes the 4 spot in its own division.
*Next highest AT LARGE wild card takes the remaining 4 spot in the West.

That’s less than ideal–travel under that arrangement would be horrendous–but you could conceivably end up seeing teams win cross-division, or even cross-conference, titles, which might make for some interesting rafters in years to come.  You might also end up seeing two Eastern rivals duking it out for the Stanley Cup.  

(Memo to the NHL:  that means you might end up with Ovechkin vs. Crosby for all the marbles.  IMAGINE THE RATINGS!)

That’s complicated, yes.  But I’m not entirely sold on the idea of teams having a 4:3 chance in favor of making the postseason out West, while Eastern teams are reduced to a coin flip.  Putting an at-large wild card in play could make things slightly easier on the East, and slightly tougher on the West, which could help balance out the idea of “two divisions of 8, one of 7.”

How does it look mathematically?  Well, Eastern teams have a minimum chance of 8/16 at the playoffs, which is 50%.  If the at-large wild card is from the East, the East would end up with a 56.25% chance of making the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the West would be guaranteed 7 spots out of 14 teams–the same 50% as the East–and would have about a 57.14% chance at the playoffs if the at-large spot went to the West.  I’m not quite sure how those work together, but they look awfully darn close, in my view.  Both conferences would begin with a 50-50 chance at the playoffs:  it would not start at 50% in the East, and 57% in the West.  Looked at strictly from the math side, 8 spots guaranteed in the East, 7 spots guaranteed in the West, and the last spot in the West going to the best remaining team league-wide, is the best way to make the math work out.

The logistics of an Eastern 9 would be horrendous, but Detroit’s won one or two Stanley Cups from out West, so it can be done.

And an at-large wild card could result in some already historic rivalries in the East becoming battles for the ages.  Think what would happen if Boston won the East, while Montreal survived the West as the at-large.  Imagine the Rangers winning the East, and the Flyers coming out of the West off the at-large.  And, I’ll try this scenario again:  Penguins win the East, Capitals survive the West from the at-large, and you end up with the CAPITALS AND PENGUINS DUKING IT OUT FOR THE STANLEY CUP.

That 7-7-8-8 alignment looks like a lemon right now, but with an at-large playing in the West…that’s not just lemonade, that’s HARD lemonade.

Now, then…Caps and Flyers tonight, on Rivalry Wednesday.  I’m stoked.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
MY, WHAT CRUNCHY NUMBERS

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