During our expansion and protection discussions, we briefly touched on where the league would actually put two extra teams once they had them - not just the cities, but the divisions and conferences. For fun, Dom and I kicked around an idea that we've apparently worked on separately for years - four 8-team divisions.
Because the southern and western teams are much more sparse it becomes a challenge to get together groups of eight without putting them at a severe disadvantage compared to the northeastern teams. For example, it doesn’t work to just re-assemble the classic '80s divisions and add the extra teams. (Pity, that.) Who gets nudged to a less-convenient location?
Boston, for example, makes much more sense playing the Flyers, Rangers, and Isles six times a year, than Ottawa and Toronto. The Bruins and Canadiens need each other to hate. So Boston-Montreal-Rags-Isles-Philly-Jersey, plus… well, Quebec? Toronto and Buffalo, for the old Adams Division purists? Where do the Penguins go?
The best I can do is:
Patrick: Islanders, Rangers, Jersey, Philly, Boston, Montreal, Buffalo, Quebec
Norris: Toronto, Ottawa, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington
Adams: Tampa, Florida, Atlanta, Carolina, Nashville, St Louis, Colorado, Dallas
Smythe: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, San Jose, Anaheim, LA, Phoenix
The Smythe is the only one that I can’t see a quibble with… the other three all have problems. Washington doesn’t really fit anywhere easily. Colorado fits a few different places. The new Norris is kind of sprawling and awkward. (When I first did this with Seattle and Hamilton instead of Winnipeg and Quebec, I had Washington back in the Patrick, with Hamilton taking their place in the Norris, both to take advantage of the natural Tor-Ham rivalry and to make up for splitting the Leafs and Sabres. Montreal is sort of isolated in that example, but they were always bitter rivals with Boston so it wasn’t too bad.)
Having both nation’s capital cities in the same division is cute, but hardly essential. You could swap Washington for Quebec if you had to, or even Pittsburgh for Quebec. I prefer the above because Pittsburgh has more of a natural rivalry with Ohio and midwestern teams, instead of the East Coast teams. It’s also fun to see the Wings and Pens in the same division after having contested the Cup from different conferences in the past. The conferences would be the Patrick and Adams in the Prince of Wales conference, and Norris and Smythe in the Clarence Campbell conference -- just like God and the 1980’s intended.
Now – how would we get these teams into a schedule?
The simplest schedule is four games within the division and home-and-home against everyone else. That’s 28 divisional games, 16 conference games, and 32 out-of-conference games, for a total of 76. The less-packed schedule helps with things like travel times and ensures that fans get a chance to see everyone in the league at least once a year, live. The downside, though, is obvious – three fewer home games per year, angry owners, and thus less revenue. Not all that likely.
There are a couple of schemes you could use to get back up to 82 games, both a bit confusing.
PLAN B: six games against your division and two games against the rest of the conference; then, you’d alternate playing home-and-home and just a single game against the other two divisions. IOW, the Isles would get 42 games in the division, 16 against the Adams, 16 against the Norris, but only 8 against the Smythe. The next season, they’d then play only 8 against the Norris and 16 against the Smythe. Either way, that’s 82 games. It wouldn’t be too hard to make sure that you alternated home and away games against those divisions so it would even out in the end.
PLAN C: this takes the "alternating schedule" bit and uses it within the division. You keep your home-and-homes against the other three divisions (48 games) and four games against everyone else in the division (28 games), and then you make up the other six games with three additional home-and-home sets against three of your divisional opponents. You can either rotate them from year-to-year the way baseball rotates the interleague matchups, or go with two extra games against certain arch-rivals every year.
I far prefer Plan B. It means less cross-country travel for everyone, and it also keeps people from mentally dividing the divisions into two sets of four, who always play each other more often – the whole point of the exercise is to create four 8-team divisions, not a de-facto eight 4-team divisions. However,
abuse mockery ahem, constructive criticism is always welcome in the comments!