Realignment fever!: Better or worse?

Once again, Mr. Bettman has proven to be a ruthless an authoritarian dictator when it comes to league affairs. Okay, that was a bit harsh, but the fact is that he got the realignment vote passed in (reportedly) less than an hour. Perhaps he’s brandishing that iron fist of his, or more likely, he simply know what the GMs and their respective clubs and owner want and had no doubt the vote would go as it did. Like him, or hate him, he’s an effective dictator(strikeout) administrator.

Well, enough with the Gary digs. Let’s get to the meat of the matter. Old: two conferences (one in the east, one in the west, well, sorta) each comprised of three divisions (largely based geographically), each containing five teams. New: four conferences, two comprised of seven teams, two comprised of eight. In the old system teams played each team in their division six times, and four times for the rest of their conference, while paying each team in the opposing conference once or twice (on a rotational basis). In the proposed new system – gets a little confusing here – the seven-team conferences would play everyone in their conference six times and all other teams twice (home and home). The eight team conferences would play five or six games against each team in their conference (yearly rotational basis) and all other teams home and home.
Okay, playoffs: the old system awarded the top three stops in each conference to the three division winners. The top team would play the eights seed, etc. This continued until the conference champs are decided, who would go on to play each other for the cup – no reseeding. The new system starts out the same – 1 playing 4, etc. – and continues until the four conference champs are decided. Teams are then reseeded based on points at the end of the regular season (1v4 and 2v3) and play on until a champ is decided.
Okay, semantics are out of the way, let’s see what this means for the teams and fans. What does this change about the NHL? Well, the stated goal was to reduce travel time. Which is understandable. Just pull up Google maps and think about the travel time for a ten-day-seven-game series between Detroit and LA. Basically the idea is that playing within a geographically smaller ‘footprint’ makes more sense. Furthermore, though not said explicitly by the league, this system will likely foster more rivalries: each club would have 6-7 teams they will play 5-6 times, as opposed to just four. They lose the four game match-ups within their larger conferences (boy, this is confusing) but now play every other team twice. Biggest problem I can see is the loss of those four game series, but the change isn’t that dramatic.
Playoffs? Well, this is where the system begins to look a little… well, unfair. The math is easy to do. In a seven-team-conference, teams theoretically have a four in seven chance of making the playoffs (57.1 percent), while teams in the eight team conferences likewise have a theoretical four in eight chance (50 percent). Sounds small, for argument sake, if all teams performed randomly each year, a team in the larger conferences would make the payoffs five times in ten years, whereas the smaller conference teams would hypothetically make the playoffs slightly less than six times in the same time span (or more accurately, five times in nine years). This seems like a pretty big disparity. Obviously this is a hypothetical model and only accounts for conference numbers, but it’s still very telling.
The proposed system would also reseed after the third round of the playoffs, allowing any potential conference champ match-up. This wouldn’t allow any match up in the finals, but teams could potentially play any club outside their conference for the cup. This seems like a good idea, but it could have easily been accomplished in the old system (although I guess we’d have to change some trophies). I think a very interesting idea would be to reseed after the 2nd round. Perhaps they’d have to group the conferences into two, but this still seems perfectly feasible. This way any set of teams could theoretically play for Stanley. I’m sure Bettman doesn’t like this idea, but the fans would probably love it. Although a Toronto-Montreal cup final would likely leave hundred dead, no matter who won.
Final thought: Does anyone else get the feeling this is hinting towards expansion? Especially with the two eastern conferences containing only seven teams. Hamilton, Quebec city? Just throw the Florida teams into the other easternish conference (south eastern?) or keep one and put Hamilton in the other. On the flip-side – though I’m sure Bettman is absolutely not thinking this – drop two teams and go down to a nice 28 format. One thing is certain: Bettman knows what he’s doing and has a plan… we just aren’t privy to that plan.
Thanks for reading
-JoelLeafs