Posted on: May 17, 2011 3:57 pm
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The need for NHL Realignment

With the NHL now actively considering relocation of the Coyotes, Thrashers and Blue Jackets in recent years, one of the hot topics has become how the conferences and divisions will be designed if teams do indeed move.  The current structure dates back to 1993, and was designed to make more sense geographically.  The number of teams per division (5) has had mixed results, and the number of games a team plays against a divisional opponent was rolled back in 2008 to be only 6.

The implications of teams moving might not be so clear.  The desire for parity of schedule and the number of divisional games played will likely be high.  But even one single team moving will cause quite a disturbance, unless the NHL is willing to go back to somewhat unbalanced divisions. 

For example. if the Coyotes move to Kansas City in 2012 and the Thrashers move to Winnipeg in 2011, the result might be such that:

1) The KC Coyotes enter the Central Division, Western Conference.
2) The WPG Thrashers enter the Northwest Division, Western Conference.
3) The Vancouver Canucks would enter the Pacific Division, filling the Coyotes' void.
4) The NSH Predators would enter the Southeast Division, filling the Thrashers' void.
5) All 6 divisions would have the same number of teams- 5.

The geographic integrity of the league is mostly preserved doing something like this, but is it fair ?  Why should any team, especially one like Vancouver with its existing Canadian rivalries with Edmonton and Calgary, be made to switch divisions to accomodate the relocations, all in the name of parity.  What does everyone think of this strategy ?

Wouldn't it be simpler to admit that the 6-division structure is a bust, and return to the pre-1993 structure of four divisions, roughly separated into N.American continental quadrants ?  We could even return to the old names- Patrick, Smythe, Adams and Norris, but don't have to.  The only real issue, would be that with 30 teams, two divisions would have only 7 teams while the other two would have 8.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it leaves the door open to possible expansion.  Here's my proposal for a 4 Division realignment:

Eastern Conference 

Northeast Divsion (Adams)
-Boston Bruins
-Montreal Canadiens
-New York Islanders
-New York Rangers
-Toronto Maple Leafs
-Buffalo Sabres
-Ottawa Senators
-empty (possibly another team in S. Ontario or Quebec in future)

Atlantic Division (Patrick)
-Washington Capitals
-New Jersey Devils
-Philadelphia Flyers
-Carolina Hurricanes
-Tampa Bay Lightning
-Florida Panthers
-Pittsburgh Penguins
-Nashville Predators

Western Conference 

Central Divsion (Norris)
-Chicago Blackhawks
-Columbus Blue Jackets
-St. Louis Blues
-Kansas City Coyotes (relocated Coyotes)
-Winnipeg Jets (relocated Thrashers)
-Detroit Red Wings
-Minnesota Wild
-Dallas Stars

Pacific Divsion (Smythe)
-Colorado Avalanche
-Vancouver Canucks
-Anaheim Ducks
-Calgary Flames
-Edmonton Oilers
-San Jose Sharks
-Los Angeles Kings
-empty (possible future team in Houston, San Antonio or Sacramento?)
Posted on: September 7, 2010 3:24 pm
 

AFC 2010 Predictions

AFC NORTH

Ravens: With solid line play, three dominant running backs, and a slew of good receiving options, Baltimore is the team to beat.  Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and TJ Houshmandzadeh may not have instant chemistry, but QB Joe Flacco only needs to be ordinary to impress with that receiving corps.  The defense has lost a step, but still has some bite and good playmakers.  Predicted Record: 12-4

Bengals: Another healthy year for Carson Palmer bodes well for Cincinnati.  Terrell Owens will be fighting off boo-birds and calls for early retirement with all of his poor routes and dropped passes.  But there is a solid running game, and a defense that has been steadily improving under Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer.  The Bengals probably won't challenge for the division spot, but certainly will contend for a wild card berth.  Predicted Record: 10-6

Steelers: Another setback year for Pittsburgh, the offense was derailed even before preseason.  With the best receiving option, Santonio Holmes now in New York and Roethlisburger suspended for 4 games, the Steeler's passing attack is in shambles.  The defense is still impressive, but figures to be on the field... a lot.  Mike Tomlin has his work cut out for him.  Predicted Record: 6-10

Browns: One of the worst teams in the NFL gets worse.  A hodge-podge team, held together by Mike Holmgren and spit, is in Year #1 of a rebuilding phase.  Fans pretty much know what to expect from a bottom-5 offense and bottom-5 defense.  Eric Mangini is grossly overrated, and will prove that he's not head coach caliber by then end of 2011, if not 2010.  Predicted Record: 3-13

AFC EAST

Patriots: With Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker all healthy for the first time in 3 years, the Pats look to reclaim some of their lost glory.  The defense does indeed have several question marks, but has proven in the past that it can be successful with even marginal talent.  Bill Belichick will this year reinforce the fact that he is a despicable human being, but a genius when it comes to coaching.  Predicted Record: 12-4

Jets: Is everyone almost done annointing the Jets as the Superbowl winner yet ?  A team that sneaks into the playoffs in 2009 gets somewhat better with playoff personnel for 2010, but still has major question marks that will herald a big disappointment.  Mark Sanchez has Santonio Holmes now to throw to, besides pass-dropping specialist Braylon Edwards.  But Shonn Green will be carrying the ball primarily for the first time, with only an over-the-hill LaDainian Tomlinson to back him up.  Still, the Jets' great defense will keep them in many games.  Predicted Record: 9-7

DolphinsStill in rebuilding mode, the Dolphins should have no one left to impress.  The blueprint that Bill Parcells laid out in 2007 has been mostly successful.  The offense still lacks a potent passing attack to supplement Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the ground.  The defense is competent, but unexciting.  The wildcat will be less likely to steal as many ballgames, for a second straight year since its "introduction".  Predicted Record: 7-9

Bills: Nobody likes to kick a man when he's down, but Bills fans, you're lucky to even have a team at this point.  Challenging the Browns for worst team in the NFL, the Bills are the epitome of awfulness.  A mediocre QB who has maybe one good receiving option joined by rushers who are either injured or unproven.  Meet Chan Gailey, this year's Dick Jauron.  Predicted Record: 3-13


AFC SOUTH

Colts: Living legend Peyton Manning once again leads the Colts towards a Superbowl.  It is true that Indy doesn't rely much on their running game, but the last time the team ran even a balanced offense was when Edgerrin James was a Colt.  This is a pass-first, pass-second team however, and actually don't need an effective rushing attack.  The defense gets little mention most of the time, which is probably how they prefer it.  Quietly, it's been built into a pretty good defense, though commentators rarely credit anyone not named Dwight Freeney or Bob Sanders.  Predicted Record: 14-2  

Titans: One of the best coaches in the NFL, Jeff Fisher however finds himself with precious little to work with.  A good out-of-division schedule against the pathetic AFC West and NFC East teams help somewhat.  But relying upon Chris Johnson to open up the offense yet again may prove more than even he is capable of.  The defense is average with an untested secondary.  Predicted Record 9-7

TexansFinally, after the last original Texan (Kris Brown) is gone, the team has some respectability.  A good defense and a competent offense, the problem with this team will be depth.  Injuries to Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub could easily mark the end of the offense being competitive.  Likewise for the defense if Amobi Okoye and Bernard Pollard go out.  Still, just as the Titans have a cushy schedule, the Texans may excel based on the poor competition.  Predicted Record: 10-6

Jaguars: The Jags will struggle this year to prove they are a capable team, but there are just too many gaps in capability.  Maurice Jones-Drew leads an offense without a quality line, a QB or a decent receiver corps.  The defense is very young, and not expected to develop chemistry until at least 2011.  This team is a doormat for the rest of the division, unfortunately.  Predicted Record: 4-12

AFC WEST

Chargers: The best team in one of the NFL's worst division has little to be grateful for.  Its passing game is very respectable, with Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Patrick Crayton and maybe Vincent Jackson.  But the running game is a question mark- rookie Ryan Matthews will get the primary duties with LaDainian Tomlinson now on the Jets, and Darren Sproles retains his role as kick returner and 3rd down back.  Expect a playoff berth, but not much else.  Perhaps it's the Norv Turner effect, or the mediocre defense, but this team regresses slightly.   Predicted Record: 10-6

Broncos An exciting young team, the Broncos will be out to prove their legitimacy yet again.  The key for this team will be picking an offensive strategy and then sticking with it.  If Orton is benched after 3 losses, and Tim Tebow or *gulp* Brady Quinn becomes the playcaller, then this team is doomed to mediocrity.  The defense is underrated, and this will be the year that Josh McDaniels proves he can be a head coach or not.  Predicted Record: 7-9

Raiders: Perpetually one of the worst teams in the NFL over the last 5 or so years, things don't figure to go well for Oakland this year either.  Jason Campbell is indeed an upgrade over JaMarcus "Soon-to-be-in-the-CFL" Russell, but has questions about his durability, especially behind a poor offensive line.  With an injury to Michael Bush, Darren McFadden will need to play well early in the season to give this team a chance.  The defense is not a push-over, but figures to be on the field a lot and give up beaucoup yards + points.  Predicted Record 5-11 and the coach gets fired by the crazy owner... again

Chiefs: It's gotta be tough to be a Chiefs fan.  Every year, the team looks like a fantasy football team that someone constructed while on crystal meth.  I'm sorry, but Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel aren't what most people would call "elite" playmakers.  The defense here IS a push-over, and I expect a lot of lopsided scores not favoring the hapless Chiefs.  Predicted Record: 4-12

Posted on: July 31, 2009 4:16 pm
 

No Angels in the NHL / Phoenix Coyotes Fracas

Jerry Moyes is heavily in debt with the team and exploiting last-ditch legal manoevers to try and swing momentum back for his favored solution, which is to sell the team to Jim Balsillie.  Moyes may have a compelling argument for why Balsillie's is the only qualifying offer, but more importantly, he has the highest offer and it would substantially offset the massive loss he's taken since the Coyotes have been hemmorhaging money since moving from Winnipeg.

Jerry Reinsdorf wants to circumvent the entire NHL Board of Governors- the owners of all of the other franchises, and move into the Toronto-Buffalo market, by putting a team in Hamilton, Ontario.  Arguments aside on the importance of putting a team back in Canada, or whether there is enough of a market in the area to be profitable without hurting the Maple Leafs and Sabres, it would be a rocky road for the team, following any relocation.

Glendale (Phoenix) insists on pretending to still deserve a major professional sports league team, when it can barely garner enough fanbase to fill the stadium for Cardinals games, and has never been close to profitable for the Coyotes.  It's a pathetic state of affairs, but the city would look even more inept if they didn't have a client to fill the stadium.  Short of relocating the Jobing.com Arena closer to the intended hockey-viewing population (or vice versa), there's virtually zero chance that the stadium will ever be full and profitable-- no matter who owns the team.

The NHL Board of Governors, and their spokesman, Gary Bettman have decided that it would be better to support a failing franchise in its existing market, rather than entertain the possibility of relocation.  While there was some lukewarm discussion regarding payment of a "relocation fee", if the market(s) of other team(s) were encroached upon, the majority of all efforts have been to stall Jim Balsillie and prevent any movement of franchises.  Some analysis by individual team owners state that the current global financial crisis has created an atmosphere of risk that could threaten the whole league, and similar things have been said about the present failure of the NHL to renegotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players' union.

What's wrong with just looking for markets that want a hockey team, and then the NHL doing its best to accomodate them ?
Posted on: May 4, 2009 11:41 am
Edited on: May 5, 2009 8:49 am
 

Problems in NHL Playoff System

With the conference quarterfinals over, and Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs underway, I have a few observations about what’s worked and what needs improvement in the NHL playoff system.  Clearly, the lack of quality, unified television coverage is a sore spot that needs to be fixed, if the sport ever wants to equal or exceed the level of popularity it had in the mid-late 1990s.  There are other problems too, such as how the playoffs drag onwards, and how a few teams lack the quality to really belong in the playoffs in the first place.

The way the NHL has marketed every series on the star players present is sickening, and disrespectful to what is at its core, a team sport.  No one denies that Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are great, if not phenomenal talents.  But how those teams succeed in the playoffs is dependent upon much more than a single player.  Ovechkin and Crosby’s teams, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t even the most exciting to watch in this year’s playoffs.  In my opinion, this designation should be given to the Blackhawks and Hurricanes.  No matter- that’s what the NHL’s paid commentators will be talking about.

NHL television itself it an abomination.  Nothing can define a professional sport as “niche” or local-market-only, like inadequate or poor quality television coverage.  While a team may have sufficient broadcast of its games in its own media market, there is no national solution.  The days when ESPN carried multiple regulation season games weekly, and most of the playoffs, died after the 2004-05 lockout – the result of a combination of poor ratings and poor advertising revenue.  Nowadays, the channel, “Versus” provides some coverage, with about so-so quality.  However, the channel isn’t offered in basic programming packages for most cable companies.  NBC has purchased a chunk of the playoffs also, but puts out a horrible product, with poor commentary, and little promotion.  Perhaps one day soon, a legitimate set of non-premium NHL channels may arise, and carry the majority of playoffs games, but until then fans may be stuck listening at their computers or waiting to read about the results the next day.

A frequent gripe about the NHL system of playoffs is the incredible length of time it takes to complete one cycle.  With 16 teams over 4 rounds, and the possibility of going the maximum number of games in a 7-game series, determining the championship team can seem almost as tiring for a dedicated fan as it does for the players.  But why is it necessary to have so many teams qualify for the postseason ?  With only 30 teams total in the NHL, 16 teams represent more than 50% of all teams qualifying!  No other professional sport in North America does this except the NBA (and critics agree its system is flawed too).  Perhaps a system where only 6 teams from each conference qualify would be a good solution.  The top two teams in each conference would receive a “bye” through the first round.  While the number of rounds would stay the same, the quality of play should increase.  The San Jose Sharks lost early in the playoffs yet again, despite winning the President's Cup and owning the best regular season record in 2008-09.  But one series later, and they lose embarrassingly to the DucksI suspect that having underperforming teams present in the playoffs exists solely because it increases revenues and profit, not because of some desire for competition.  *Sigh- “purity of sport” takes a backseat to financial greed.

As the playoffs go on this year, I hope for more challenging matchups and more exciting hockey.  Personally, I don’t have a lot of faith in the commissioner, Gary Bettman to change the NHL much for the better, but I can hope. 

Posted on: February 5, 2009 6:58 am
 

Contraction = The New Face of the NHL ?

So there are multiple teams "failing" across the NHL.  The Islanders, Predators, Blue Jackets, Thrashers and both Florida franchises are in rough times financially.  Phoenix, despite playing well has hemorrhaged cash almost since the day the franchise moved from Winnipeg.  Yet in the last Governors' Board of Governors meeting, the owners declined to discuss any move to ensure survival of the league, other than a hiring freeze for NHL employees.

http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/
article/126110

The NHL continues to let teams play in small markets where the fans don't support the teams.  It's doubtful that the NHL has a vast warchest of cash to continue to keep franchises like Phoenix afloat indefinitely.  So the solution must be to either move teams to other markets, or kill them altogether.  Whichever solution is adopted, something must happen and happen soon .  The economy is not improving anytime soon, such that fans will turn out in massive droves for what even hardcore NHL fans admit is a niche sport.

While it may be distasteful to some, there are cities willing to accept NHL franchises now.  Kansas City, Indianapolis, San Antonio, and Hamilton can all support a team financially, and at least as well as Columbus or Phoenix ever pretended to.  What's more, there are potential bidders for teams in those cities, willing to assume risk.  Yet the NHL continues to complicate or block the sale of teams, pointing at turnarounds in Pittsburgh and Washington, and hoping that the growth of the League coming out of the 2005 lockout will eventually hit all markets and benefit all teams.

The alternative is unthinkable, and I'm shocked Gary Bettman & co. have done nothing to prevent it.  Contraction of the NHL and loss of a single franchise means loss of jobs- players, officials, and support staff.  With multiple NHL franchises flagging, and badly so, it's a shock that nothing has been done to prevent teams from folding under financial pressure.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com