A Look at NHL Divisional Realignment

by JG

(Full disclosure: this post was originally longer, with analysis on past divisional alignment in a variety of leagues, but WordPress crashed and my post got deleted, so I was forced to re-write it. Consider this an abridged version of my original intended post).

In case you haven’t heard, word broke today that the Thrashers are/could be in serious talks to sell the team and have them move to Winnipeg. For more information on that story, please visit Yahoo Sports.

If that happened, and the NHL’s divison stayed the way they are as of now, there could be some serious travel problems.

Let’s look at an example. In the past, it would be normal for the Thrashers to have a week like this (Sunday-Saturday): Off, Atlanta, Off, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Off, Carolina. If the schedule remained the same, but the team in Atlanta instead played its home games in Winnipeg, travel would become ridiculous.

Hit the jump for more, including a proposed map.

For more reference, click here to see a map of Central and Eastern North America. I’ve also included a map which shows where each NHL team is currently located. I took this map and made some additions using Paintbrush.

Current divisions, with a black square representing Winnipeg.

Hit the jump for further analysis.

While the NHL’s current divisional alignment isn’t perfect (if team history was ignored, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Washington, among others, seem out of place), it’s much better than that of the NFL. There are plenty of problems with the NFL’s divisional and conference alignment (map here). The Colts play in the AFC South and the Bengals play in the AFC North, even though Indianapolis is significantly northwest of Cincinnati. The Cowboys, who are the seventh westernmost NFL team in a league of 32, play in the NFC East. Similar to the NHL however, regional location may partially be ignored in favour of rivalries and team history.

That being said, if the Thrashers do indeed move to Winnipeg, not moving them would be irrational, which is why I’m proposing three changes to the current alignment. The changes may be simple, and even obvious to some, but I figured I’d get them down on (virtual) paper, along with my reasoning, for others to read. Refer to the map above while reading. Here they are:

1. The new team (Winnipeg) would move to the Northwest division, along with Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The Northwest makes the most sense for the new team because not only does it work geographically, it would probably be wise to put them in the same division as the other three western Canadian teams. The reason I chose to keep Colorado and move Minnesota is because it makes a lot more sense to put Minnesota in the Central than it does to put Colorado in the Pacific. Obviously, putting Calgary, Edmonton, or Vancouver in any other division would be irrational.

2. Minnesota would move to the Central division, joining Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, and St. Louis. If you look back at the map, Minnesota is already extremely close to some of those cities, especially compared to its current divisional foes. The owner of the Wild would probably love this idea. Travel costs would be reduced drastically for divisional games, and Minnesota’s new divisional opponents would probably attract a much larger interest than their current ones, ideally reenergizing their fan base. I chose to move out Nashville, rather than Detroit or Columbus, for different reasons. Detroit and Chicago are both part of the NHL’s Original Six, and separating them would be extremely unwise. Columbus and Nashville might have equivalent history in their short NHL lives, but putting Columbus in the Atlantic or Northeast divisions makes much less sense than putting Nashville in the Southeast.

3. Nashville would move to the Southeast division, joining Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Washington. Nashville’s move would not push any team out of the division, as they’d simply be taking Atlanta’s spot. If you look back at the map, you’ll notice that Atlanta and Nashville are actually very close to each other, so the other teams in the division would not even be largely affected. Aside from away games against the Panthers, Nashville’s travel plans wouldn’t really change that much either, as they are about as close to their new proposed divisional opponents than their current ones.

Here’s an idea of what the new divisions (in black lines) would look like. As you can see, not that much really changes at all. Choosing to realign any other way would be a very poor decision by the NHL.

So I guess that’s it for now. To be honest, I completely lost my original train of thought. My first post (pre-deletion) contained a bit further analysis, especially on the NFL, as well as a longer ending. Unfortunately, the WordPress crash seems to also have resulted in a brain crash, as I can’t for the life of me remember what else I wrote.

Regardless, I hope you enjoyed what I have to say. Feel free to further discuss it in the comments below, as I love interacting with others and exchanging opinions on anything my readers choose.