I have always been a hockey fan and I always will be. Despite its flaws, I still love the NHL. Nevertheless, I believe the NHL can be better and should consider some changes. No, I will not go on any diatribe about poor officiating or goalies being overly padded to the point where they resemble the Michelin man. I am here to discuss radical division realignment AND reducing each conference to two divisions.
I believe the NHL should reduce each conference to two divisions, as it would create more marquee matchups and a more exciting playoff atmosphere throughout the regular season. With three divisions, you are more likely to have a team or two that coasts their way to the playoffs because they play in a weak division and have a soft schedule (for example, the Washington Capitals for years in the Southeast Division).
If you reduce each conference to two divisions, that makes the divisions tougher and more competitive. Having only two divisions would also enable certain teams to face one another more often than they normally do under the three-division format. Surely, the NHL would love to see the Pittsburgh Penguins (led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) play against the Capitals (led by Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) more often.
If I could change the NHL, I would reduce each conference to two divisions apiece, and I would switch a few teams from one conference to the other (bring Columbus to the East and move Toronto back to the West). Under my format, both division winners would receive automatic playoff bids and there would be six wild cards. In addition to reducing each conference to two divisions and realigning some teams, I would rename these divisions after legends of the game. I would name these divisions after Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
When teams are not playing their division rivals, I would like to see more Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference matchups (it is important for fans everywhere to have a chance to witness the elite players of the game). The NHL must do a better job of marketing their stars (and that includes stars other than Crosby and Ovechkin).
Listed below are the division alignments I considered:
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Los Angeles Kings
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
Detroit Red Wings
San Jose Sharks
The teams I place in these divisions and conferences are not necessarily set in stone, as I am open to discussion about it. I do think these ideas are worth consideration, and the NHL should look into it. I believe it is a topic worthy of discussion.