NHL Alignment Talks Too Much

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Now that the lockout is over, it is time for the NHL and the NHLPA to get back to work and focus on the next big issue at hand: realignment. These post lockout talks are expected to begin within the next week and will potentially get rid of the two conference system in the NHL for next season and put in place a new system. What that system will be, however, has yet to be decided.

Last year before the lockout, the NHL put forth a proposal to realign to a four-conference league which would have been composed of two seven-team conferences and two eight-team conferences. The top four in each conference would move on to play in the Stanley Cup Finals, the one seed playing the four seed and the two seed playing the three seed in each respective conference until finally only one team would remain from each conference. Those four teams would be split up in the semifinals until only two teams remained to battle for the Cup. As “elaborate” and “well thought out,” as this plan was, the NHLPA would not agree to it and the deal was squashed within a matter of days.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said that the major issues that the player’s union had with this new proposed alignment was that there would be increased travel for teams as well as a disadvantage for teams in the eight-team conferences to make the playoffs as opposed to the teams that were playing in the seven-team ones.

I agree with Fehr and the NHLPA that particular realignment idea was absolutely ridiculous. However, I also think that there is no need to change the NHL conference system and that they should just leave things the way they are.

We all know what went on in the MLB this season as far as realigning the leagues; the Houston Astros, the bottom feeders of the National League Central, are moving to the highly contested American League West where they will be able to compete with the Seattle Mariners over which team will finish dead last. On top of that, now that there are an odd number of teams (15) in each league, there will always be one interleague series going on all the time in order for all teams to play. Many fans hated interleague play as it was, and now it is going to happen all the time. Clearly there are some issues there.

Seeing how many people have disliked the MLB’s realignment, I could only imagine that many fans would dislike a realignment of the NHL conferences as well. By breaking up the conferences, there is the potential that great division and inter-conference rivalries that have developed over the years will be broken because the teams will not be playing one another as often and the hatred that usually fuels those game will be less intense.

Also, how does the NHL plan on dividing the conferences up? Who is going to be put into what conference? Is it going to be solely by location, or will they actually factor in division rivalries and keep those teams together? If it does come out that there are an uneven number of teams in each conference, which teams end up getting the shorter end of the stick and get stuck in a conference with more teams than another? There are a multitude of questions that could be asked that I do not think the NHL can answer, which is why last year’s attempt at realignment fell through.

Seeing as how the NHL season started in the middle of January and is only 48 games long, it doesn’t seem to me that the NHL and NHLPA agree on things very easily. I predict that these talks will be long and full of differing opinions that will allow nothing to get done, and the NHL will stay exactly the way it is right now. But is that really a bad thing?

I for one love the two-conference system in the NHL. I think that it is a fair system that gives every team an equal opportunity to make the playoffs. A team that wins its division deserves to be one of the top three teams in its respective conference. The teams that have more points than, say, a division winner, but are a lower seed because someone in their division had more points than them, still end up playing a team with a worse record so they are not at a major disadvantage. If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. The NHL two-conference system works, and it always makes for great hockey come playoff time.