February 25 2013 09:37AM
There it is, in all its screen-capped glory, thanks to Harrison "H-dog" Mooney.
On Hockey Night in Canada this past Saturday, the specifics from the NHL's latest realignment proposal was reported to the public. It would mark a return to a grouping that the Canucks had been in for most of the first half of their NHL life, and the re-born Smythe Division will be rather straightforward when it comes to travel.
Before the Canucks were shunted into the Pacific Division in 1993, the franchise had played for more than a decade in a division that featured Calgary, Edmonton, LA and Winnipeg. (The Sharks were members for their first two seasons in the league.)
Really, this new division is an amalgamation of the current Northwest and Pacific divisions, minus Dallas and Colorado. It's 2,841 km from Vancouver to Dallas and 1,782 km to Denver. For reference, it's 1,735 km to LA and 1,979 km to Phoenix. Travel will still be a pain, but it could be far worse. There's no visiting super-high altitude Denver, and there's no real problem with time zones.
Plus, being in a seven-team conference means each team has a 57 per cent chance of making the playoffs. That's pretty good. Also it's not like the Canucks would never see a major central division rival like the Blackhawks, per Elliotte Friedman:
Yes @real_jamerz, every team would play home-and-home— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 24, 2013
That's good to know. One of main complaints about the current league structure was the lack of games against the whole league. Not playing each team home and away leads to an extremely unbalanced schedule; some teams have harder schedules than others. In recent seasons, playing in the now-weak Northwest has been something of a boon for the Canucks (even if they have succeeded against the league as a whole as well) and given them lots of opportunities to take their foot off the gas. Which has also sucked for fans, who've had to tolerate more Minnesota Wild games than anyone should have to.
Beyond Friedman's tweet, there's not much on what the schedule would look like, but we can make some informed guesses. If the Canucks play every team outside their conference in a home and home series, that would be 46 games right off the bat. A further 6 games against each conference rivalt, akes them to a total of 82 games. In the 7-team conferences, the math is pretty easy. In the 8-teamers, it would be 44 out-of-conference games, six games against each of the other 7 teams in the conference would yield an 86-game season, so obviously that won't work. Does that mean that teams in the larger conferences would play three rivals six times and four rivals just five times?
Thank goodness the Canucks are in one of the far-simpler-to-conceive of seven-team conferences, eh?
So just two games against the Hawks rather than four - is that better or worse? Both fan bases get pretty riled up and there are commentators who said this week that this is the NHL' s best rivalry. Realignment would mean the Canucks would see the Blackhawks less often, though a reduced number of games would also amp up the anticipation.
Besides, there are still plenty of storylines in a proposed Smythe conference - the upstart Oilers are still there, the downtrodden Flames too. The Kings and Canucks don't exactly get a long either and the presence of the ever-present, ever-outstanding Sharks would also keep things bumping.
If Phoenix does the expected and becomes the Seattle Metropolitans - something I'm still not convinced is sustainable, but that's another story - then this conference becomes very, very friendly travel wise.
Now, playing in every city in the league will add kilometres to the travel budget, but structured right, road trips won't be much worse than they have been in recent years. If you figure they travelled to roughly half the eastern teams each season, usually on two road trips, figure that there will be a third road trip to the east coast each season.
Assuming the league is shifting to conference-based playoffs for the first two rounds, we'd lose the wide variety of playoff matchups we've seen since the move to six divisions in 1998. That's a shame and building in some sort of overlap between paired conferences wouldn't be a terrible idea. On the other hand, in this realignment scenario winning two playoff rounds all of a sudden becomes a pretty cool accomplishment from a bragging rights perspective.
I'm curious to hear what you guys think!