Alignment is a train wreck. Not anybody's fault in particular, but a train wreck nonetheless. The problem is entirely due to the fact that the geographical center of the NHL is situated at about 40 degrees North latitude and 83.5 degrees West longitude, which ironically is just west of Columbus, near Tradersville. Half of the NHL clubs exist North/South and East/West of that point on the map. The problem is that the distance to the Western perimeter (San Jose) from that point is 2,091 miles, while the distance to the Eastern rim (Boston) is only 641 miles. That means a lot of travel for the western teams, particularly the teams at either end of the Western Conference range, including Columbus. In the East, a bike ride will get you to 4 or 5 cities.
Next, divisions do nothing except tilt the schedule horribly against some teams and in favor of other teams. Think anybody from the East would have wanted to be in the Central Division of the West last year? Not a chance. Nobody cares about a division title. The only think that a division title gets you is an unwarranted top 3 seed for the playoffs. If you are stuck in the tougher conference, you have 24 games just against your division, then 40 against the rest of the conference, with only 18 left against the rival conference. Not fair. Besides, while a President's cup is cool, there is only one cup anyone is interested in.
While it is true that you can never obtain complete fairness, I think I have a system that goes a long way to getting there:
1. No Divisions: Get rid of the divisions, which do nothing in hockey. Go back to two conferences, with the points dictating the top eight in each. Top four get the home ice in Round One. Period. No more getting a free ride for a division title. Go back to calling them the Prince of Wales Conference and the Campbell Conference, which I always thought had a kind of funky charm to them.
2. Axe Geography: Eliminate the fiction of West and East (Columbus is West of what . . . .Philly?) Make each conference encompass part of each geographic region. Here is the proposed lineup:
Wales Conference: Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Atlanta, Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose
Campbell Conference: Buffalo, Boston, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Washington, Carolina, Tampa, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver
If you travel through each conference from city to city, in the order indicated, the two conferences are within 75 miles of each other in total distance. Many regional rivalries are preserved, and road trips can be arranged to encompass 5 or 6 games within a specified region. Which brings me to the schedule.
3. Overhaul The Schedule: Let's truly let everyone see everyone, and finally put an end to the fiction of artificial rivalries. My ideal schedule? Eliminate half of the pre-season, extend the season by five games, and play everyone in the league 3 times. Second best would be to extend the season by four games, play the opposing conference twice (30 games) and your own conference four times (56 games). Assuming the players don't want to extend the season, play twice against the other conference (30 games), three times in your own conference (42 games) and the remaining ten games split evenly between the two conferences.
This serves a lot of goals, including minimizing the arbitrary nature of the existing schedule, providing exposure around the country to some great players who don't get much air time, and really providing a more realistic measuring stick for all teams. We would hopefully be able to use 5 and 6 game road trips as the standard, reducing the number of one and two game trips, and hopefully making overall travel more efficient.
Just food for thought. Have at it, loyal readers!!