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February 27, 2013

Pucks On The 'Net: Realignment Thoughts

So the NHL is close to finalizing their realignment plans for next season.

First and foremost, every team will play every other team at least twice - one at home, and one away. This corrects an incredible wrong. Did you know Sidney Crosby has played in Vancouver as a Pittsburgh Penguins just twice in his career?! Or that Dallas' recent visit to Vancouver marked just the 2nd visit in 12 years for future Hockey Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr? Or that the Boston Bruins have yet to return to Vancouver for a Stanley Cup rematch?

There is no greater travesty in the NHL than the fact that all fans are not treated equally. When Wayne Gretzky was in Edmonton, you know the Eastern powers that run the league made sure #99 was in every NHL building. But now that the Sidney Crosbys and Alexander Ovechkins are in the East, they have been hoarding them.

That the National Hockey League is righting this wrong is the best news hockey fans have gotten in years.

What I do find odd about the realignment proposal is the imbalanced conferences. I understand why there are 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. Is that an unfair advantage for the Western teams? Yes, but ultimately it sets everything up for the inevitable - expansion to 32 teams.

What I don't understand is what is the NHL's end game here. Clearly they have to add two teams to the Western Conference. But do they do that at the expense of Quebec City and a second team in Southern Ontario? The expansion fees would be through the roof for those two cities, far more than any American team. Seattle? Kansas City? Is there any other Western US options?

I suppose they could expand to Toronto and Seattle and have the new Toronto team play in the Western Conference. That would keep western Canadian teams happy, other than possible travel distance.

That leaves Quebec without a team. Phoenix would still need to relocate, presumably, but not at the opportunity cost of expansion money. Could they move to Seattle, have Toronto 2.0 in the west, Quebec in the East and force another realignment with an Eastern team (Columbus?) returning to the Western Conference.

It seems like the NHL's realignment proposal has more new questions than final answers.

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