I hate it.
Not that it wasn’t necessary, because it was, but because there is a wide variety of options that could have been chosen over the option that was chosen. It comes across as a shortsighted move (more on that in a minute) and designed to help a select few teams (mostly good) without really improving the NHL overall.
The NHL currently has 30 teams. This number is not divisible by 4. Luckily, it’s widely believed the NHL will be adding 2 expansion teams in the near future. Great, problem solved if the 2 expansion teams are in Seattle and Kansas City/Houston. That doesn’t seem very plausible though. I think it is a safe bet that the Greater Toronto Area will be adding a second team within the next 5-7 years. Even if it ends up being Seattle and GTA, that’s manageable if you’re willing to place Markham/Hamilton/Whatever in the Mid West division. Assuming Phoenix stays exactly where they are.
That’s where the shortsightedness shows up. I realize the NHL doesn’t want to show its hand regarding the Coyotes and where, if it becomes necessary, they might relocate to. That said, if the NHL’s preferred destination is a US market like Seattle in order to preserve Canadian markets for expansion teams (and the fees that go with it) then shouldn’t any realignment plan introduced now create some easy wiggle room for the future? Personally, I’d rather not deal with arguments over what team should be in what division because their travel schedule isn’t ideal any more than I have to. With that understanding, and working off the assumption that Phoenix will relocate to Seattle and Markham and Quebec City will get expansion teams, how could realignment have been accomplished now while providing an easy transition for future expansion teams (and solve the playoff imbalance that seemed to cause to many issues)?
Simple: Leave Detroit in the Western Conference.
15 teams in each conference, with one 7 team division and one 8 team division. Sticking with the wild card format eliminates the concern of playoff inequity, since the final 2 playoff spots would be awarded based on points rather than divisional finish. As it currently stands, the Western Conference teams must be thrilled they will only have to finish ahead of 6 teams instead of the 8 teams an Eastern Conference team would need to finish ahead of to qualify for the playoffs. With the shootout point boosting point totals and increasing parity, having two fewer teams to compete against for playoff
money spots is a huge advantage. Are travel concerns really enough to warrant higher priority than better odds for making the playoffs? I don’t see how that’s logical.
As for expansion, it will be easy enough to add one team to each conference. Quebec City would be placed in the 7 team division (Central–I really hope they come up with better names) in the Eastern Conference with Toronto, Montreal, Boston, et al. Colorado would be moved to the Pacific division to make room in the Mid West for Markham. Then every division has 8 teams, the proposed wild card system can remain in place or be tweaked to add more teams to the playoffs if the NHL decides, and NBC lives in fear of an all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final. Everybody wins!
As for why the NHL didn’t opt for the 15 team conference option now, I can only think of a few reasons:
1) They don’t want to suggest anything about expansion or relocation.
2) They know something about Phoenix that makes them think the Coyotes will be there for a long time.
3) Detroit threw a hissy fit about Columbus moving to the Eastern Conference before them.
4) The NHL and PA couldn’t agree on a schedule matrix that would be fair for teams and guaranteed home-and-home series for every team.
I think there’s some validity to Reason #4, although I doubt it would be significantly more complicated then the proposed schedule breakdown. I think Reason #1 is 100% true, because the league offices like to operate in secrecy even when rumors are everywhere. I’d be pleasantly surprised in Reason #2 was true, but I’m not optimistic. Finally, I think Reason #3 is true to an extent. Unless a schedule matrix for two 15 team conferences was absolutely impossible, I don’t see why any of the above reasons should have prevented the NHL avoiding the 14/16 mess we currently see.