A glaring oddity is that the divisions are uneven, 16 teams in the east, 14 in the west. One reason I don't like this is because it gives the western teams an easier chance at making the playoffs. This was a problem in the MLB and they fixed, yet the NHL is driving straight into it. I get the NHL's reasoning behind the change. It was done to appease the Blue Jackets and league golden child, the Red Wings, and their fan bases. Before this movement, Columbus and Detroit were the only 2 eastern time zone teams playing in the west. This made their traveling a little more demanding than the rest of the league and caused their fans to miss more games because so many of them were late at night. This divisional alignment helps put an end to that, but changing the divisions was too myopic. It's not going to last (at least for Detroit & Columbus) and here's why.
With 2 less teams in the west, it is highly likely that the NHL is looking to expand. The front runners for expansion cities are up for debate, but likely options include Seattle, Quebec City, Hamilton, Kansas City and Markham. (a suburb of Toronto)
SEATTLE would work well since they are building an arena to lure the Sonics back to town. This could easily be the home of a new NHL team. This would be a great option for Gary Bettman, since he dislikes Canadian teams so much.
QUEBEC didn't work the first time around, and for a reason. There was no English speaking outlets there so it was hard for some players to adjust. Eric Lindros basically told them to screw themselves after getting drafted by them and instead became a beloved Philadelphia Flyer. Quebec is hungry for hockey though and would do almost anything to bring the Nordiques back. The old arena could also be used while a new one is built. I'd only be for Quebec getting the Nordiques back if they use that slick husky logo they were about to unveil before they bolted to Colorado.
MARKHAM would essentially be the second Toronto franchise. I really don't know how well the fans would support them though. It would be like placing a second team in Philly and expecting us to jump ship from the Flyers camp. Of all places that would support a second team though, Toronto is probably the best bet.
HAMILTON is large city near Toronto. They currently support a CFL team and an AHL team very well. That's all. I really can't speak much to Hamilton. It's Hamilton.
Finally KANSAS CITY. KC is an enigma. There were talks of the Penguins moving there before they got their first fan in 2005. That didn't pan out, but since then there have been a few preseason games in the Sprint Center (which could easily house an NHL franchise) featuring the LA Kings. One game was a total bust attendance-wise while the other sold out. KC would fill some gaps geographically, giving the west much needed teams, but it would be a total leap of faith.
As you may have noticed, most of those options are in the east. Unless Bettman gets franchises located in both Seattle and KC, which is doubtful, there would be 17 or 18 eastern teams. Quebec, Markham and Hamilton are more deserving of teams than most western cities and would most likely get teams first. This means that unless the NHL wants divisions so unbalanced they topple over they would have to send the Red Wings and Blue Jackets right back to the West. There's just no way around it short of relocating the Islanders to Las Vegas. (I joke, but I could actually see Bettman doing that) Now we're in the same boat again.
The 6 divisions of 5 was clean. It wasn't a broken system. All you had to do to make it make a little more sense was swap Nashville for Winnipeg in the Southeast. Eight is too many for a division. Eight is over half a conference. Should the league go to 32 teams I would like to see something akin to the NFL with 8 divisions of 4. I really don't think I could go on pretending the Hurricanes are a fierce divisional foe.
By: Ben Lebo
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