theScore's NHL expansion concept: Black Knights, Nordiques prompt divisional realignment
Wondering what NHL expansion will look like? Yeah, us too. In fact, it has our wheels spinning pretty good.
Welcome to theScore's NHL expansion concept, where we bring the league's flirtation with the process to reality. Now, this comes with a disclaimer: This is STRICTLY fantasy and simulation. Expansion is very much in its infancy. And thus, the method to which we determine the rules, cities, teams, and players involved is 100 percent improvisational and speculative.
All that said, it's fun to look ahead, to imagine what might be possible, and to crystal-ball 2017-18. So with that:
The addition of two teams to the NHL landscape requires divisional realignment. Ideally, the new clubs would have come from out west, easily balancing out the existing divisional structure.
That not being the case (thanks, Seattle), it's a perfect opportunity to somewhat drastically shake things up.
Here's our proposal for the four, eight-team divisions:
The biggest proposed change is an all-Canadian division that spans three time zones, creating a distinct disadvantage in terms of travel.
In a league of 32, teams will play divisional opponents four times each, twice at home and twice on the road. Every three years, teams from one division will play teams from another division three times, while meeting clubs from the other two divisions in one series of home-and-home games. As a result, the regular season would need to be bumped to 84 games.
In a typical season, therefore, Eastern Canadian teams will have to travel to Alberta and British Columbia twice, with an additional trip to the Southwest every year, and another every six years.
The other 24 teams have been slotted based on proximity, with a more traditional West and East format.
Along with realignment, we propose a change to the playoff format whereby five teams from each division are given the chance to qualify, but with the caveat that teams four and five will have to play a short best-of-three series in order to grab the final spot.
Once that is settled, each division will begin with a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 opening round, and the winners of each series will face off in the second round.
Each division will then send a representative to the semifinals, where the four teams will be re-seeded based on regular-season record, and square off for a spot in the Cup final.
This format ensures that one team from the Canadian division will qualify for the conference finals every year, while helping the league avoid a non TV-friendly, all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final. So while it splits a Boston-Montreal divisional rivalry, for example, it sets up the possibility for a Cup final between the teams.
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