Canucks to get a new conference: All hail the Smythe!

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:

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!

  • Wax Man Riley

    Love it. Inter-conference playoffs breeds great rivalries and the notion of reseeding allowing two eastern or western teams to meet in the cup final is awesome.

    On a side note, why aren’t you sold on Seattle as a market? I’d suspect the number of British Columbians nearby would only bolster the market. Especially if the early goings are cheap.

    • An NHL team would be the fifth major franchise in Seattle; entertainment dollars are finite. It would be a huge task to make it work, it’s not impossible, just improbable.

      Not sure how much of an influence Canadians would be – it’s a two-plus hour drive *after* the border. Would fans do that for a midweek game?

      • BrudnySeaby

        Vancouverites do it now with Hawks and Mariners games, and both of those teams are pretty wretchedly bad.

        Even if it just bolsters them for the 1 home game a year against Boston, Montreal, Toronto and Detroit, add in 3 games against Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, you’ve got 13 automatic sell-out games locked in each season.

        Also, it’s only a 2 hour drive if you drive like my Grandmother.

        • Have you driven through Seattle in the evening rush? It’s murder.

          I agree that there are plenty of people who would travel for away games – but you shouldn’t be basing your business model on that. If they are, then the prospects are even worse than what I’m suggesting. This is a Seattle team. That’s where their fans should be. Getting Canadians to travel would be gravy.

        • JCDavies

          “Vancouverites do it now with Hawks and Mariners games, and both of those teams are pretty wretchedly bad.”

          Yeah, but Vancouver doesn’t have an NFL or MLB team so the drive down makes more sense. I don’t know how much support Vancouverites would actually give a Seattle NHL team. Some of those games (Calgary and Edmonton, for example) probably wouldn’t even be automatic sellouts.

  • I really like the possibility of the return to divisional playoffs. Rivalries aren’t bred in the regular season; they’re bred in the playoffs. So having your favourite team go up against a familiar foe in the playoffs would immediately drum up rivalries. And I don’t think they would be a forced rivalry. They would come about organically. It would therefore make the regular season far more interesting.

  • Really no different than the league was when it *was* the Smythe, apart from the disappearance of the Campbell/Wales format grouping two divisions at a time into conferences. First two rounds of playoffs were already divisional (and then the division “winners” — as North American sport understands it — face off against the intra-conference division winner. Not sure how they’d handle that now if they’re dead-set on not having real conferences). Through most of their history before the 1993-94 season, the Canucks never had much of a chance to face any of the Norris teams in the playoffs, let alone the eastern ones.

    Also, among the teams not in one’s division, the league didn’t previously distinguish between the intra- and inter-conference games in terms of setting the schedule after the 248632 games against Edmonton and Winnipeg. So St. Louis and Chicago got 3 games a year, just as Montreal and Washington did (with a few 2s in there to balance it to 80, 84 or 82 games as necessary).

  • BrudnySeaby

    The home and away against every team (outside the own conference) is the best thing about this realignment!

    Don’t like the idea of the conference based play-offs. Too many games against the same teams already!

    I wish the following format would be adopted (but realize the NHL probably never will because it would cost them revenue. Boohoo!). Home and home games against all teams outside the conference (total 46 games) and 4 games within the conference (24 games) for a total of 70 games for the season. Rank all the teams and the top 16 enter the play-offs. Play 1 against 16 seed, 2 vs. 15 etc., regardless the conference the teams are in. It’s a complete open system where teams from different conference can go up against each other. First round play-offs: Canucks vs. Canadiens! Wow!

    The shortened season shows us that less games is more fun. Players will be able to play harder on more nights and have a better chance of being healthy in the play-offs with less games under their belt. The 70 games schedule will offset part of the added travel with the home and home games (NHLPA might like that!).

    Yes, teams (&NHL) loose revenue with a reduced game schedule (82 to 70) but if that is such a problem ad another 7 games against the other conference foes (our case agains conference 3) so you play either a home or an away game against those teams for a total of 77 (close enough to 82!).

  • BrudnySeaby

    It looks sure that there will have to be some sort of crossover from east to west if you have uneven conference numbers. I wish they still had the 1-8 seedings with each conference winner getting the 1st and 2nd seed. Let the rest of the teams seed themselves where they may.

  • JCDavies

    It sucks and i hate it.

    Just like everything else in the NHL, this new alignment & schedule is all about money; and to hell with the competitive balance or whats good for the game or what the fans want to see.

    This is a terrible idea.

    First off: From a purely competitive standpoint there should be no conferences or divisions. Every team should play each other an even amount of times and the best 16 make the playoffs. Period. Now OBViously that cant happen (im not a complete fool), but this “4 conference” nonsense is another step away from that ideal. They SHOULD be trying to find a way get MORE games against each team, not less!

    Second: As a Canucks fan, Why the fudgepacker would i want to see LESS games against Chicago?!? WTF. I’m still waiting for my Boston Bruin rematch in Vancouver, and now ur taking away my Chicago games?!?! I want more Toronto, more Montreal, more Ottawa. I want 4 games against all the Canadian teams. I want the New York Rangers & the Pittsburgh Penguins. I want Detroit and Philadelphia. I Buffalo goddamnit!! (hey Christian & Cody, hows life?) I don’t care about Anaheim or Phoenix. You think i’m gonna spend $80 for a nosebleed ticket on a Tuesday night to see the Coyotes for the 12th time in 20 months? Fat fucking chance.

    This schedule is garbage.

    The NHL is a joke.

    It’s the worst run league in the world and this is just further proof, as if u needed anymore.

    Remember the lockout?

    I hate it.

    I’m out. Peace!

  • JCDavies

    I am a little disappointed with what this will probably do to the rivalry with Chicago but I’m sure another great rivalry will develop to take its place.