NHL Expansion, Division Alignment
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As I’m sure you are all aware, the NHL is most likely going to expand to Seattle in the next several years. Seattle has always been on the NHL wish list, and they finally have a plan to renovate their arena for hockey and basketball.
The investment group has already filed for an expansion team with the NHL, and their season ticket drive to gather investment capital and gauge the interest in the team was a complete success. The Seattle group made their ticket sales goal in a matter of minutes, which was not as fast as anyone expected.
So with the talk that Seattle will be joining the league sometime in the next couple of years, I want to talk a little about what they are going to look like when they come into the league. The NHL has stated that Seattle will have very similar Expansion Draft opportunities to what the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017. The current NHL teams will be able to protect certain players from Seattle, but Seattle will have a very good chance to pick up some quality players from the rest of the league.
But don’t expect Seattle to have the instant success that Vegas is having right now. NHL teams have learned just how strong their hands were tied in certain cases, and they will take a better look at what they can do to protect the players they value most. Maybe we will see a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets hold on to a player like William Karlsson, who is currently leading the Golden Knights in goals.
Vegas also had the perfect combination of players and coaching. I’m not sure that Seattle is going to be able to get the same level of coaching as the Golden Knights are getting from Gerard Gallant. Vegas certainly picked up players that fit the way Gallant wanted the team to play, and they have been unprecedentedly successful this year. I would expect some natural regression from Vegas next season, but time will tell just how far they will regress, if at all.
Seattle will probably struggle a little bit more coming out of the gates, but don’t expect them to not be competitive. I would image the ceiling for that team should be set at a Wild Card level, even though Vegas is going to win the Pacific Division in its first year. We are not going to see Seattle struggle like the 2016-17 version of the Colorado Avalanche.
So, what is this going to mean for the alignment of teams in the NHL. The natural fit would be to stick them into the Pacific Division, but that would put that division at nine team, while the Central only have seven. I think splitting the league up into two conferences and eight divisions makes the most sense. Think about the NFL’s division system, and you get the idea. This system would allow for more regionally-based divisions. Let’s take a look at the East:
Division #1: Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Washington Capitals.
Division #2: Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders.
Division #3: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens.
Division #4: Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The first two divisions are easy to put together. You can use the geography to put Division 1 together, and you maintain the rivalry of Tampa/Florida. The second division also makes sense, since all of those teams are basically right on top of each other.
It gets a little trickier after that, but in keeping a “northeast/west” theme here would make sense. You can lump the Sabres and Bruins together, as well as the Jackets and Wings. So then it’s about putting the other four teams in good spots, but those could easily be flipped around a bit.
What about the West?
Division #1: Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes, and Dallas Stars.
Division #2: San Jose Sharks, Seattle, Vancouver Canucks, and Vegas Golden Knights.
Division #3: Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, and Winnipeg Jets.
Division #4: Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Nashville Predators.
Obviously, the West doesn’t have that natural geography like the East, but that is due to the teams being so spread out compared to the East. I tried to keep a geographical theme here, but there a few different ways to do it. Honestly, the hardest part is determining where the California teams go, because the Sharks just fit in a couple different spots.
The point, though, is that I think the best way to line things up would be a eight division breakdown of teams, as opposed to the four division format we have now. If we stick with four divisions, you are going to be moving the Golden Knights to the Central, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but wouldn’t be my favorite thing. Time will tell us what we can expect for NHL re-alignment, but that’s my pitch for the eight division. Stay tuned for a comment about the NHL playoff format, as that is a very hot topic around the hockey world right now.