Rearranging divisions in the NHL is a lot like changing popes. At the end of the day, it’s still the Catholic Church. Or, in this case, the NHL. Things will change. Just not that much.
This redistribution of the teams confirmed Thursday by the league will have its adherents and critics. Let’s examine the pros and cons of the plan now that it’s set in stone (barring a team relocating or expansion franchise) for at least three years starting this fall.
Perhaps the most enlightened notion is the recreation of the divisional rivalries of the 1970s– ‘90s. In those blessed days of John Brophy’s Leafs battling Jacques Demers’s Red Wings, teams constantly faced the same opponents in the playoffs. The antipathy created was positively nasty.
Fans loved it, but with as few as four or five teams in a division, variety was missing. (Hey, even hate gets stale over time.) The new four-division paradigm answers that with seven or eight clubs now playing within a single division. With eight teams making the postseason from each conference, it should provide infinite permutations for the playoffs.
Keeping teams within their time zone more often will also please the local TV carriers and the team sleep consultants. Western clubs still travel far more than Eastern teams, but this might mitigate the disadvantage a bit. Getting Detroit back to its rivalries with all but one of its Original Six partners is also a plus.
Negatives? As we mentioned earlier in this space, the two most likely relocation/expansion sites (southern Ontario, Quebec City) are both in the ET, already home to two more teams than the West. How do you square that circle? And how did we say NHL expansion without throwing up in our mouths?
Also, no divisional names yet. The commissioner (who ignored fans till Jan. 19) wants fan-friendly names. Okay... “ @dowbboy NHL division names: Bobby Division, Dougie Division, Gordie Division and Guy Division.” Or how about, “ @TomKostiuk @dowbboy Hill to Die on Division, Hockey Related Revenue Division, It’s a Partnership Division, The Traction Division, No Visor Division.”
Finally, divisional play will do nothing to the NHL catechism on parity. Right now, the standings are like one of those fog-bound 82-car pileups on the autobahn. Everyone jammed together in a tangle of bent bumpers and scraped paint. Shuffling teams within conferences won’t change that.
Hands up everyone who looks forward to waking up and sorting through the playoff possibilities from the night before? Who woke up and wondered if Chicago continued its dynamic point streak? Success sells. Even the College of Cardinals knows that.
Nay vote for expansion
“No reason not to have [NHL] expansion. You already have 15 teams losing money. Might as well have 17 losing money."– the wisdom of Sportsnet’s Doug MacLean.
NFL owners for the win
While the hockey business is still sorting out the impact of its new collective agreement with players, the verdict is forming on the NFL’s latest CBA, achieved in 2011. And the winner is the NFL owners. Again.
Thanks to decisive wins over the NFL Players Association in the 1970s and ‘80s, the league already enjoys something the other pro sports can only dream of: no guaranteed contracts. So the salary cap in the NFL is far more flexible. Teams can either cut veterans or restructure existing deals from year to year.
In the recent NFL lockout (which ended without the loss of regular season games) a dramatic cap was placed on entry-level contracts and improvements in transition/ franchise tags. The impact is clear for players who gambled on unrestricted free agency that started on Tuesday. Free agents who refused offers from their original teams have seen a stale market.
While a few of the early contracts (Mike Wallace to Pittsburgh for $60-million) are glitzy, a number of others represent a sobering re-evaluation for players counting on free agency to hit a financial home run. Reggie Bush, who signed a four-year deal with the Lions, will make a pedestrian average of $4 million a year. Ex-Lion DE Cliff Avril turned down $30-million from Detroit then had to settle for $15-million in Seattle, etc.
“@JasonLaCanfora Tough sledding for free agents continue – $6M a year for CB Sean Smith. that won’t bode well for the bevy of aging CBs on the market.”
“RapSheet If I’m [Darrelle] Revis, I’m shuddering looking at what CBs being paid. His agents, who are good, will have to argue he’s worth > double Sean Smith.”
As usual, the perpetual underachievers such as Cleveland or Detroit have spent liberally in March, hoping for a quick fix. Likewise, canny teams like Baltimore are selling high, waiting to buy low on desperate FAs low in a few weeks. We know where that is going.