Reshuffle Please


Yesterday Gary Bettman submitted and the board of governors approved a new four conference format. Assuming the NHLPA okays the changes, the new system will be in place next season.

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Mr. Bettman and company got this right, especially when it comes time for the playoffs. For the most part traditional rivalries were kept intact and will be playing each other more often in the post-season. Who doesn’t love the idea of the Bruins and Habs going at it more frequently in a best of 7?

More importantly for Albertans, when was the last time the BofA was renewed in the playoffs? Way too long for everyone. Yes, I know both teams must make the playoffs for that to happen. Clubs go through cycles of success and I hope both teams are on the upswing.

After the lockout the league decided that within a division each team would play the others 8 times. The thought was it would amp up the rivalries. It actually caused the opposite effect: seeing the same team so often watered down the battle level. Rivalries are started and intensified through playoff battles, not so much by regular season games.

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To reach the semi-final under the new format, a team would have to dominate it’s own division. Playoffs series wars from the previous spring would carry forward to the next year. That will spark more regular season game battles. It would also allow new rivalries to start.

I would still like to see an additional tweak to the playoff system. As is the case now, teams with less points than some other squads in the opposite conference get a ticket to the dance. As discussed with Gregor on his show, it would be great to have a one game battle between the team with the lowest total points in a top-4 position and the club with the highest point total outside of the top-4. Only points count. This would create a great race for that one spot to get in. The game would be played the day after the regular season ended.

As a former player, I love the idea of playing each team at least twice during the year. You get to see all the players and the cities. When I played on the east coast, it was always so special to do the western Canadian swing and be able to play in front of all my family and friends. It was an incredible feeling and quite honestly one of my favorite memories.

It isn’t very often that most people are pleased with the moves of the NHL. This is one time I couldn’t agree with them more.

  • Chris.

    A more balanced travel schedule should help level the playing field when western based teams bid for the services of UFA’s.

    Also, as an Oiler Season ticket holder, I’m stoked about the proposed home and home for all 30 teams. Variety is the spice of life.

  • DK0

    My only complaint is that we couldn’t throw the blue jackets in the eastern division and have 8,7,8,7 for conference sizes. Then maybe do some sort of wildcard thing for the playoffs. Sucks that the west has 2 more teams cut from the playoffs than the east.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis


    I like your final chance to the dance idea. that would definitely smooth things over with teams potentially missing out on the fun while having more points than a team in another conference.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Bettman’s put the big eastern hockey markets in one conference. Step two is to add Boston when more teams move North. Not so happy for him if the three travelling conferences dominate the final.

  • Chris.

    At least they’ll play every team once at home so were not having to see Crosby or Ovechkin once every four years. This is radical and kinda like the old days where the Stanley Cup Finals would be up in the air.

  • The Farmer

    I know it’s a little late now, and it wouldn’t have the divisional playoff battles. But what might have worked is three conferences of 10. Home and home with everybody and finish off schedule within conference. Top 5 out of each make the playoffs, with one wild card spot to finish off the 16. I honestly think this would have been more fair, and pretty reasonable. I like the new format, but doesn’t it bother anyone else that we get a 50% shot, and other teams 57%

  • I’d be a little bummed if I were a Jets fan. No other Canadian teams in their conference, plus they’re stuck with MIN, NSH and CLB. That’s going to be some boring hockey a lot of time per year. Only two dates with the Oil and Flames each season who I’m guessing they’d rather play.

  • Clay

    The thing that would make this layout truly great is the same thing that Bettman needs to do to make the league stronger (and something he’d never do because it admits “defeat”) – fold two teams. Phoenix in the Western conference, and Columbus in the Central. (Columbus has had 10 top-ten picks in their 12 year history, and they’re still dreadful. Time to give up, boys!). Due to these teams’ non-existent fan-bases, they’d never be missed.

    First, obviously, it makes 4 equal conferences of 7 teams each.

    Second – how great would a dispersal draft be? It would create excitement for the rest of the fan-bases out there, and the quality of hockey would go up due to better talent on the remaining teams.

    Third – It eliminates two teams that the NHL has to prop up with 8-figure yearly bailouts.

    Bettman would never, ever, ever do it, though. Too bad.

  • CanaDave

    I was thinking the NHL should set up something like the CFL playoff crossover like Struds suggested, where if a 5th place team in one conference division has more points than a 4th place team in the opposite conference division the 5th place team gets a chance to steal the spot.

    All in all though, I really like the new conference and division alignment and I’m glad the NHL didn’t do something crazy like try to create a Canadian division.

  • Truth

    I think it is completely unreasonable to allow some teams to have an increased chance to be in a playoff position. If I was Katz I’d be mad, the ‘eastern” conferences just got a 7% better chance at making the playoffs.

    I recall hearing that each home playoff game earns the team around $2M. This could be way off, but both the fans and the owner lose in the 8 team conferences.

    • Lofty

      This advantage would add up to one playoff appearance every sixteen years for an average team. Complaining about an advantage that small is the definition of pettiness.

      The crossover idea only creates the appearance of fairness since the differences in schedules means that points are not directly translatable to quality of team. As a matter of logical necessity you cannot infer that more points=better team.

      Hence there is no way of knowing whether the problem is real and no way of knowing whether the crossover corrected an injustice or created a new one.

      The criticism that this plan is unfair is not supported by either the facts or by reason.

      The plan is as close to an unequivocal good as you can find in this world. It is good for the fans, it is good for the owners. It is good in every way.

  • South of Cowtown

    @Strudwick – I take offence to your use of the term… “[A]s a former player…” found in the second last paragraph… I saw the goal from your opening night overseas– if that wasn’t an NHL calibre scorer’s goal, nothing is…

    As for the realignment, I suspect that the two eastern conferences were intentionally set up in that manner to eventually prepare for a Phoenix move to Quebec City, Hamilton or Toronto sometime in the next few years. I’ve come to the conclusion that Bettman doesn’t like failures and he’s finally learned to build some contingency plans into the league’s affairs.

    As for the playoffs, I agree that if a 5th place team has a better record in the regular season than a 4th place team in another conference, the team with the better record should go in instead or have the right to a tiebreaker game with the team it proposes to bump like in baseball. And here’s a whacky idea– you could sell tickets to it… or broadcast it on television!

    The final comment I have regarding playoffs is that once the opening round is over, how do teams determine who they go up against? Do they get re-seeded #1 to #8 and go against each other in a 1/8, 2/7, 3/6 and 4/5 format regardless of Conference? That might make for some interesting matchups that don’t normally occur.

    • 1983 and This Year

      The tiebreaker game is a marvelous idea — until that 4th place team is the Oilers with 96 points, now forced to play the 5th team in the other conference with 97 points. A one game coin toss robs us of the playoff spot we earned. Great pie-in-the-sky talk for a cross-over, I can’t wait to hear the howls and gnashing of teeth on ON when it’s put into effect to our detriment.

      • DieHard

        I agree. Maybe the Oiler Conference is tougher than than the 5th place other team’s conference.

        I like the new setup. The 7 or 8 team conference is what it is. Allows for both expansion and contraction.

        I would like to see a new structure set up for draft pick order as well. I’m tired of some teams continually getting top 10 or better picks year in and year out.

    • Jason Strudwick

      Thank you for setting me straight! I do still got it!

      Could you imagine the build up for the one play-in game? It would be huge. It would be a great lead up to the main playoff run.

      I also like the idea of no re-seeding until after the winner of each conference is determined. That would build intense rivalries. Teams would also have to build their teams to beat whoever they consider is best in their conference. Just like in baseball each one would develop their own style of play.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        Off topic…

        In lieu of one of your earlier articles… I’m wondering your thoughts on the Tootoo suspension on Miller. It looks like two lessons were learned.

        1) Tootoo got it pretty good by Miller, Gaustad et al. Sabres are trying to get back in the protection racket.

        2) Shanahan clearly got the message. I always thought the impact of the Lucic hit would be more of a lingering culture change than whatever discipline Lucic ended up with (or didn’t as was the case)… but I didn’t expect to see such a culture change so soon! and concerning the same goalie!

        curious to know if you think that Tootoo hit gets a suspension without the prior Lucic hit… I suspect not.

  • Scuba Steve

    I don’t understand all the complaining about “maybe a team with more points is out b/c they are in a different conference”.

    I am so glad they got rid of the top-3 seeding for division leaders, how many times did Carolina win their awful division and place 3rd when otherwise they would have placed 9th? Four, five? It’s not new to have a weaker team get in while a stronger one doesn’t.

    What happens in one division has no bearing on another division. Be a top 4 team in your division and you’re in, be fifth or lower and you’re out. Simple.

    Doesn’t matter if 4th in the West gets 110 points and first in the East gets 65. It only matters within your own division, this is a great step for the NHL.

  • South of Cowtown

    If we really want to even the playing field for travel, let’s move the Florida teams out of that insanely hot hockey market, and move them to Seattle or Portland. No hockey history or support there.

    • Lofty

      Both Florida teams are pretty well supported and average over 15,000 tickets per game. They’re small market teams in big cities but they’re still viable and are the least of the NHL’s problems.

  • DieHard

    When it comes to the semi-finals and each conference has their winner. I have not seen the plan as to who plays who but I would like to see a seeding of points only among the 4 teams. Seeing that they had played each other twice, the max points is 12. Tie breakers can then be decided with a variety of ways.

  • DieHard

    “or have the right to a tiebreaker game with the team it proposes to bump like in baseball. And here’s a whacky idea– you could sell tickets to it… or broadcast it on television!”

    The NCAA even manages to sell tickets to see the 63-66 seeds fight for the last 2 spots. A NHL playoff cross over system would put 14-16 teams straight into the playoffs each year and offer up to 2 sudden death games between 4th place teams and challengers with more points.

  • South of Cowtown

    Trade Talk.
    Since Carolina is struggling to score and we need grit.
    Is Sutter available for a price from the Canes or is he untouchable ?
    Young and gritty and would piss off Calgary, even though they had him once. Just curious.

  • Lofty

    “Hence there is no way of knowing whether the problem is real and no way of knowing whether the crossover corrected an injustice or created a new one.”

    But there is a way to settle it. On the ice.

    If both teams placed 4th from the bottom of their conferences even more reason to settle this on the ice.

  • Lofty

    You see the concessions Bettman had to make to get teams to play home and home. The Eastern Old Boys clubs got there little sect there, the southern no influence, no money clubs got the royal shaft, the west is happy to see Sidney and Oviwan once a year. I don`t like the idea a team with less points can get in, thats going to be a major pissoff every year, especially if a team with 79 points gets in rather then a team with 93. Oh well, battle of Alberta, we`ve missed you, welcome back.

  • Lofty

    RPK99, there will be a returning of the old divisional names, because CHUCK NORRIS says so, and approves this change. What Bettman going to do, What Chuck Norris wants Chuck Norris gets. Long live the Chuck Norris division

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Personally I would have liked the divisions with less travel distance get the extra team for 8. I don’t think the one extra team is a significant advantage but it might help balance out the unfair travel of the west and central teams.

    Unless of course expansion is planned for the east (Quebec and Ontario) which would move everyone to 8

    Regardless, the format is a step in the right direction.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    So the NHL is now the CXCy league (look at the map again).

    The fan of the game comes through in Strudwick’s writing. I like this. Awesome. If the realignment ignites the players like he suggests we will see better hockey. Lets face it: game winning goals without the embellishment and emotion are not the hockey we love.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    No real issues with the re-alignment, asides for Florida (they got screwed…). However, I would like to see the top 3 seeds make it, leaving 4 wild card spots for the playoffs. Is the top 4 seeds confirmed, or is it still up for debate?

  • 1983 and This Year

    I just can’t believe there’s no talk whatsoever that we still have only 53% soon to be 50% of teams in the conference making playoffs. Most North American leagues have at least 66% – ie: original six had 4/6 = 20/30 today.

    My point is, if the NHL added a 3-game play-in series for 4vs5 then did best of 5 conference semis, the length of the playoffs would be unchanged, but the chance to meet CGY/VAN in the playoffs would increase, bubble teams would get an additional gate and there’d be lots more intrigue to the races for byes and first place for obvious reasons.

    Is anybody talking about this besides Holland and Rutherford? But even they were trying to make it complicated by having some sort of wild card round robin!?