NHL: Realignment Or Misalignment?

The NHL announced it’s plans for realignment Monday, and while it is interesting on some fronts, it doesn’t make sense to me on others. Sabrenoise editor Tim Redinger has his own fantastico take on this obviously touchy subject (which you can read below this article), and I have some of my own opinions, which I am now going to shove down your throat.

If you choke on ‘em, blame Gary Bettman.

First of all, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in a conference with the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators? Really?  What, the NHL didn’t have a franchise in Puerto Rico they could slip in with this bunch? If Bettman and his cronies were thinking geography on this one, they need to go back and look at a map. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals would have made better choices, in my opinion. But I’m sure the NHL, it’s Board of Governors and NBC all wanted Sidney Crosby playing the likes of the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Alex Ovechkin‘s Capitals each six times a year, instead of playing lil’ old Buffalo.

Money rules the world.

As far as the unbalanced conferences go (with the two eastern-most sporting seven teams each, and the two western conferences eight each), look no further than Quebec City and Markham, Ontario for possible answers on why that is, for the time being. Quebec has wanted their team back since Le Moving Vans took their players and their belongings west to Colorado to become the Avalanche. Markham, which is about an hour north of Toronto, is the site of a proposed $300 million, 20, 000-seat arena (which is said will rival the Air Canada Centre) being spearheded by Graeme Roustan, chairman of Bauer Hockey. The greater Toronto area can no doubt support two teams, in part due to it’s population (5.5 million), and also ticket supply and demand. Maple Leafs tickets are notoriously hard to come by, and you usually end up paying through the nose, so putting another franchise in that area makes total sense. Now, Roustan has emphatically stated that his arena is not contingent on acquiring an NHL franchise, now or in the future, but you can bet that the NHL is on board with this and that the NHL and Roustan know each other very, very well. Adding these two cities to either of the new eastern most conferences would balance everything out. Stay tuned.

On to the playoff format then. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings on the new (old) 1 vs. 4/2 vs. 3 conference format. Recalling the old Adams Division, it seemed the Sabres would always play either Boston, Montreal or Quebec every season in rounds one or two. While this ended up building some highly intense and physical rivalries, it did get a little old seeing (and getting beaten by) the same three teams seemingly every single spring. It got to a point that hearing the names Rick Middleton, Barry Pederson, Brad Park, The Stastny Brothers, Michel Goulet, Chris Nilan or Mario Tremblay would incite violent feelings inside my already hockey-crazed grape.

And you could always count on the 5th Adams division team, the Hartford Whalers, not making the playoffs. So not even Whalers sniper Blaine Stoughton and his 56-goal seasons could change things up and make them interesting!

On the other hand, many of those playoff rounds were all-out wars, some even resulting in a few bench clearing brawls, with, you know, blood and stuff. They were memorable, too.

The Sabres and goaltender Bob Sauve‘s two-shutout, three game sweep of the fabled Montreal Canadiens in the 1983 divisional round, where “Bobby Suave” looked every part Dominik Hasek (before there was “the Dominator”), is Sabres legend, and bordered on the ridiculous. I have seen very few goaltending performances that were it’s equal. Our hearts would then be broken by a laser of a slap shot from Bruins great Brad Park in overtime of game 7 of the Adams Division Finals, sending the Sabres home empty handed yet again.

Well, I guess we’d better get used to hating guys like Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and…Stephen Weiss (?). Oh, boy.

Finally, as far as Conference names go, I am very adamant that the NHL needs to get creative, while honoring the greats that helped grow the sport into what it is, the greatest game on earth. I had the idea long before realignment (trust me…wink, wink) that the NHL needs to get away from the “every league, vanilla-type” division/conference names such as Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, South-by-southwest, Great Plains, Hot Climate Hockey Towns, or whatever the hell they’re called now. Leave that to MLB, the NBA and NFL.

We need to get back, and give back, to the heritage of this game and recognize the players who were instrumental in putting hockey on the map in some of the later years (1950 forward).

This would no doubt be an item of personal preference, and it may not be fair to some who wouldn’t be recognized, yet deserve it, but I am proposing the following:

Robert Gordon Orr Conference

Wayne Douglas Gretzky Conference

Gordon Howe Conference

Terrence Gordon Sawchuk Conference

(Wow, that’s a lot of “Gordons”, and if you use these, Bettman, the check had better be in the mail).

I don’t need to go into the HHOF archives and bore you with stats, stories, accomplishments, lore, legend or myth to underscore what these four gentlemen did for the game of hockey. The previous four divisions and conferences had names (Prince of Wales Conference, Clarence Campbell Conference, Adams Division, Patrick Division, Smythe Division and Norris Division) honoring the builders of the league and the game, and now I think it’s time to honor the players who’s various contributions on and off the ice brought this game to unprecedented heights.

  • Orr was quite possibly the best defensemen to lace them up,and revolutionized the position.
  • What has to said about Gretzky that 61 NHL records don’t say already.
  • Howe, in one package of skill and toughness, was the best all-around winger in the game for 32 NHL and WHA seasons. He’s known as “Mr. Hockey“, for cripes sakes.
  • With 501 wins, Sawchuk (by all accounts, since he was before my time) is highly regarded as the goaltender who set the standards by which all other goalies, past and present (Martin Brodeur included), would be measured by.

Either way you slice this realignment thing, there are tons of impassioned opinions and irrational thoughts. The press that the hockey world is showering on this subject just cements the fact that hockey fans are the most loyal of any sport. I hope the NHL, it’s Board of Governors, Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and anyone else making these tough decisions have thought about the one thing that have gotten them all here, the fans.

Heh. I’m not holding my breath.

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Tags: Adams Division Barry Pederson Bill Daly Brad Park Buffalo Sabres Clarence Campbell Conference Florida Panthers Gary Bettman Gordon Howe Conference Martin Brodeur Montreal Canadiens Nhl Realignment Norris Division Ottawa Senators Prince Of Wales Conference Rick Middleton Robert Gordon Orr Conference Smythe Division Stastny Brothers Tampa Bay Lightning Terrance Gordon Sawchuk Conference Toronto Maple Leafs Wayne Gretzky Conference

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