How about a little regional flavor?

You think this is happening in the Nashville-Anaheim series?

I was on a team flight, sitting with Ken Kal, Mickey Redmond and Ken Daniels not too long ago, as the three gentlemen discussed NHL realignment. As the fourth estate, I decided to listen as the hockey experts had a discussion any puck loving geek would enjoy. Who would move from what conference to the other? How many games each division would play against each other? Various travel scenarios that would benefit a Western Conference club sitting in the Eastern time zone and whatnot.

That conversation crept its way into the back of my mind as I watch Boston and Montreal tangle for the fifth time in the last 10 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As Andrew Ference flips the bird to fans in Montreal and Max Pacioretty Tweets about the length of Brad Marchand’s nose. Those little things, stanchion hit notwithstanding, that make rivalries truly unique.

Say what you will about the Bruins and Canadiens being Original Six clubs. That’s not the reason why their first round series is so entertaining. As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, especially when it comes to the high intensity atmosphere of playoff hockey.

Before the NHL went to the current Eastern Conference/Western Conference format for the 1993-94 season, qualifying for the playoffs was done by a divisional basis. As were the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning that any club that wanted to win the title would have to beat two divisional foes to do so. With an already unbalanced schedule, designed specifically to create those coveted regional rivalries, it may not be a bad idea to reexamine this format in the near future.

Of course, in the glorious, nearly 120-year-old history of sport’s most prestigious trophy, playoff formats have come and gone. In the early 1980’s, teams would be seeded from 1-16, regardless of division or geography, creating first round matchups between Buffalo and Vancouver, Philadelphia and Edmonton and the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings.

The league got its act together in 1982, sticking the Red Wings in a division with the North Stars, Blackhawks, Blues and Maple Leafs, all of whom would serve as regional rivals for more than a decade. Though times weren’t as prosperous, Detroit met Chicago in a playoff series in 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989. Boston played Hartford and Montreal, the Islanders saw the Capitals, Devils and Rangers, and Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton would battle for Canadian bragging rights.

What made the Detroit-Colorado rivalry so unique, like the Bruins and Canadiens currently, was the fact that it defied the odds. The two clubs played each other in 96, 97, 99, 2000 and 2002. They consistently spent to compete with each other, using the financial edge both had to create the existence of a rivalry the NHL has never seen before. In 2001, the Avs were the top seed, while Detroit was the second seed. Detroit was the two and Colorado the three in 2003. And the two clubs were a Game 7 goal between Calgary and Vancouver away from meeting in the second round series back in 2004.

You just don’t see it anymore.

As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, but having a geographically friendly playoff format helps as well. With the teams seeded by placement in the conference, our road to the Stanley Cup could go through Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver. Not only do you lose the rivalry factor, but the frequent filer miles start to build up after a while.

How could you hypothetically divide the Western Conference?

PACIFIC: Vancouver/San Jose/Anaheim / Los Angeles / Calgary / Edmonton / Phoenix

MIDWEST: Detroit/ Nashville / Colorado / Chicago / Dallas / St. Louis / Minnesota / Columbus

This is just one man’s opinion, but feel free to throw out your own thoughts. Under this format, the opportunity exists for San Jose-Los Angeles-Anaheim, or Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver, or Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis-Minnesota, to see each other in the playoffs on a regular basis, creating those rivalries that then carry over into an unbalanced, division heavy, NHL regular season schedule.


About Jake Duhaime

Social Networking Manager for the Detroit Red Wings
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6 Responses to How about a little regional flavor?

  1. Roy Martin says:

    Detroit has no business in the WEST division. Watching a quarter of the games from the West coast during the week until 1:00 AM is for the birds. I won’t speak for Nashville, that’s their business. The only time I ever want to play the west teams is in the playoffs. I could care less what the West does in hockey. I came from the original six and if I had my wishes, I would only have 8 teams. Too many teams with not enough great players to fill the rosters. The NHL should be the elite league. All others play in some other leagues pitted below the NHL. We are not located in the WEST, so why should we have to pay the punishment of suffering with WEST coast teams. That’s my take. Take it or leave it.

  2. Chris P says:

    The NHL could also consider a divisional format similar to the MLB. Whereas in hockey you have the Eastern Conference which is disproportionately small geographically to the West, the American and National League span coast to coast with a West, East and Central division. This allows for an arguably more fair travel system where every team would have to travel to the east or west coast as the case may be. It would also preserve regional rivalries as the divisions would be made up of teams with common location.

    Wales Conference
    Central: DET CHI TOR PIT NSH
    West: CGY WPG (replace for Atlanta) DAL LA SJ

    Adams Conference
    Central: BUF CAR STL CBJ MIN

    This creates more of a balance to where all teams have to do some
    moderate traveling and the Detroits Columbuses and Nashvilles of the hockey world aren’t the only teams stuck with it. Also I would slash the Thrash’ and give them to Winnepeg!

  3. James says:

    Completely trash the east and west conferences. It never made any sense in a league that has TWENTY of its THIRTY teams east of the Mississippi River. Yes, two-thirds of the team are in one half of the country, but they tried to split the country in half with conferences. It never worked.

    They need to go the MLB / NFL route and inter-mix the conferences. Keep divisions completely regional, but put divisions from each coast into each conference. Or, scrap conferences and go with four divisions, where two have 1 more team than the other two, preferably in the more hockey-depleted areas.

  4. Al Larese says:

    The problem with divisional playoffs arises after seasons where one or more divisions are significantly better or worse than the others, creating a competitive imbalance between divisions. At least now, teams are seeded by conference standing, for better matchups. Not only that, the conferences would have to go back to two divisions each, and the Eastern teams would NEVER allow an MLB-type setup wherein they would have to play more teams in the west. It just won’t happen. Wings fans are doomed to remaining in the Western Conference until expansion happens (very unlikely), or an Eastern team moves to the West.

  5. Andrew Mitchell says:

    Howard you suck!!! Go Sharks!!!

  6. tednancy says:

    The Division format in the 1980s and early 90s was perfect. The NHL utterly ruined its playoffs in 1994 when they abandoned it.

    Having to qualify for the postseason through you division then having to win not one but two series against division rivals was pure genius. It created instant rivalries that played out on the big stage year in, year out. The first two rounds of the NHL playoffs, during that era, were the best part of any postseason in all of the major pro sports. Every year your team had to first concern itself with competing with its division rivals, and then, to reach the Cup, you had to prove it first against the teams you hate the most. It was solid gold.

    Gary Bettman’s playoffs suck by comparison; they are nothing special, just like the NBA. Way to go.

    I used to love the NHL; now, I’ll watch if by chance I see something compelling, which never happens anymore. It was once automatic, what with rivals dueling every year in the playoffs for the right to compete for the Cup.

    Bettman ruined hockey. Too many teams. Too many franchise relocations that don’t make sense (Nashville? Carolina? Phoenix? WTF!!!), too many uniform changes and identity crises, too much diluting of talent.

    Contract the league to 21 teams, and get a franchise back in Winnepeg, Hartford etc. Bring back the Campbell and Wales Confs., and the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe Divisions. Make teams where white at home again. Top 4 teams in each division qualify for playoffs. Then teams must fight it out inside their divisions for the right to compete for the conference title, and then, the Stanley Cup.

    EFFFFFFFFF the current system – the NHL sucks so much now it will be a minor league joke until Bettman is dean and/or his mess of the NHL is cleaned and the golden hockey glory of the 1982 – 1993 era is reclaimed.

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