‘The Hot Stove‘ last night dropped a realignment bombshell on us. Take a look:
Christmas-pinch me: Could it really be that in the very same week Dale Hunter is returned to D.C. legacy-honoring leadership is emerging in realignment discussions, such that our Dick Patrick in particular would feel like a kid at Christmas?
Even recently arrived OFB readers know well our disdain for the scourge that is the Southeast division. This realignment scheme — and it’s merely a proposal that could be voted upon by owners at their meeting this week — takes some serious TNT to the least interesting division in the history of pro sports. As a kissing cousin to the Great Old Patrick division, the proposal differs only with the addition of Carolina. Most importantly, it jettisons the rest of NASCAR country, miraculously sticking it to the historic Habs and Leafs — but under an intriguing premise: there would be, the thinking goes, some synergy between Canadian snowbirds who follow those Florida clubs and the elite markets way up North. Interesting.
Additionally, as part of this scheme, there appears to be something akin to an intriguing sweetheart promise to the historic North Atlantic clubs for accepting the sunbelt orphans: the very real possibility of absorbing a relocated Phoenix team, in Quebec City. The proposal posits a 16-14 split between what could be viewed as East and West alignment, and moving the relocated Coyotes in with the Habs et al would achieve 15-15 balance. I haven’t spoken to many in hockey media ever since Atlanta bolted for Winnipeg who don’t believe that Quebec City will have an NHL team within 5 years. Viva Les Nordiques! That division, even with its Southeast hangers-on, would have serious jam.
The travel for the ‘Ning and the Cats would kinda suck, sure, but who outside Florida cares? It’s the ‘Ning and the Cats, after all. What matters: the Wings are finally happy; nightmarish travel for Western clubs today is significantly repaired, insomuch as there is far greater an equality of travel among all member clubs; and the grave injustice perpetrated by Gary Bettman against Washington in the late 1990s is at long last rectified. If this scheme comes to pass (heavy lifting for it, undoubtedly), I’m sending the commish an OFB Christmas card.
Knowing that NHL owners were meeting this week to discuss realignment (in Pebble Beach, Calif. — nice winter meeting work if you can land it), I actually spent a fair portion of Saturday running errands with a pad of paper and a pen in my Jeep, concocting a variety of realignment lineups — all predicated on returning the Capitals to where they belong: back with Pittsburgh, back with Philadelphia, back with the Rangers, the Devils, and (for now) the Islanders. The problem I kept running into: what do with the Southeast dregs — basically, the Florida teams.
I tried of course pairing them with Nashville, and Columbus. Just when I’d get excited about achieving what I ultimately wanted I’d realize how many Western clubs I had to slide over to the East, creating grave imbalance. In one scenario I even had the Original Six clubs lined up together — talk about generating some serious buzz; no other pro sport could match that kinda fun. But nothing was working out as I’d hoped.
One of the creative tools I was tinkering with was assigning a value to each NHL club based on the likelihood of each one remaining located where it is today, in five years’ time. I raised this notion because when it comes to “radical realignment,” I really believe owners and managers need to consider the very real possibility that a handful of clubs in grave fiscal distress now won’t be where they are today down the road just a bit. This proposal as outlined on CBC last night takes Phoenix’s identity crisis into mind. Odds are at least one or two more clubs will be in a similar situation soon.
Ultimately, we may owe some mistletoe love to the leadership in Philly and Pittsburgh for this scheme. Understandably, those clubs didn’t want any realignment that separated them. The beauty of a reconstituted Patrick division is that it reignites some of the fiercest rivalries in all of hockey south of the border. And when you think about it, given all the Caps and Pens have done for the sport post lockout, how shallow and short-sided would it be to move forward with significant realignment and not put the Flyers, Pens, and Caps in direct warfare with one another? Detroit and Winnipeg obviously need their respective situations remedied ASAP, but thinking large on realignment fosters a big win for the league overall.
Heck, we could really have some fun with this new-look league: How about a Patrick Division Winter Classic round-robin New Years weekend? The top four teams in the division at Christmas get the invite. The stadium atmosphere would resemble European or South American soccer in its potential for violence. Sign me up.
Speaking of division names: This too Bettman needs to be called to the carpet for, and it needs to be rectified as part of radical realignment. If indeed there are four “conferences” established (the new set of four groupings apparently would each be called “conferences”), each should be named after a giant in our sport. I’m not wedded to Patrick, necessarily, for our grouping, but I do believe some blue ribbon panel ought to take All Star weekend, say, and meditate on names like Howe, Orr, Gretzky, as well as some of the builder giants that erected this league. A special trophy ought to be commissioned for each named setup.
Additional attributes of this potentially Heaven-sent setup: A more balanced schedule, featuring home-and-away dates with every club outside of one’s recast division/conference. While there is some concern with increased travel costs with this, I’m of the opinion that two factors override it: Most basically, what is it about the NHL that necessitates geographical isolation, relative to other pro sports? And isn’t there something akin to a moral obligation for the league to showcase its other-worldly talents (Crosby, Oveckin, Stamkos, etc.) in every market, every year? With the present unbalanced schedule if you’re a fan in Western Canada and Crosby’s Pens visited you while he was recovering from a concussion, you’re SOL for years. And divisional playoffs will breed new rivalries and give life to already established ones.
We in Washington are already indebted to Santa for bringing us an early Christmas present this year, but given what the league has put us through with the Southeast, we are entitled to another special gift, I say. Hockey’s greatest rivalry today ought to be organically housed, and in the process the abomination that has ever been the Southeast division ought to be, mercifully if belatedly, euthanized.