25 February 2013

One SOH opinion: Stop sweating uneven conferences in the new possible realignment.

One SOH (State of Hockey) opinion posts are to emphasize OPINIONS of the author.  Even if the post speculates on the opinions of other State of Hockey fans, such statements should be understood as speculation.   All readers are welcome to submit posts or ideas for "One SOH Opinion."  Tweet me @SOTSOHockey if interested.

In a nutshell...

On Saturday CBC ran with another NHL realignment possibility, that like the plan last year would put the Wild in a conference with mostly central time zone teams.  Minnesota would be grouped with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, and Winnipeg.  The main difference between the this plan and the one floated last year is that Columbus and Detroit will each be shifted to one of the two new Eastern conferences, and the aforementioned Avs would end up in the conference with the Wild instead of in a conference with the Pacific and Western Canada teams.  (You can read the details of the new plan on Puck Daddy here.)

I believe most Minnesota Wild fans are in favor of any plan that reduces travel to the Mountain and Pacific time zones, and this plan clearly does that if the formula is home-and-home only against the other three conferences.

I still don't like this quite as much as the plan that was floated last year (Puck Daddy link here.) because I think splitting Detroit away would be very sad, especially regarding the Chicago rivalry.  But if that's the worst thing about the new plan, Minnesota Wild fans should still love it more than the status quo.

Revisiting the objection of uneven playoffs

Last year I had this piece about several objections to the four conference format realignment that didn't make any sense to me.

Last week Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne sat down with on Dan Barrerio on K-FAN radio.  Nanne told Barrerio that he spoke with NHLPA head Don Fehr about how disappointed Nanne was about re-alignment not happening for this year and apparently Fehr told him the sticking point is that the PA doesn't like the playoff structure.  (If you would like to hear this exchange, check this link to FAN on Demand. Nanne's comments on Realignment and Olympics from about 40:00 to 42:00)

It seems everyone is worried about how unfair it is to be in a conference of eight teams versus a conference of seven if the format is to be four teams from each conference.  The basic math is that having a 4 in 7 chance (all things being equal) instead of a 4 in 8 chance to make the playoffs gives an advantage to teams in the conferences of seven.  And that is true.  But this advantage is one extra playoff appearance on average every 14 years for the teams in the conferences of seven.  I think everyone raising this as an issue is overreacting.  (I won't dwell on this too long, everything I wrote in the piece linked above still fits with my opinion.)

It isn't ideal, but I don't think it's a big enough problem to outweigh the huge advantages for TV realignment would bring.  And TV scheduling and team travel benefit from keeping the playoffs in the smaller conferences.  There won't be Minnesota Wild playoff games starting at 9pm CT when they draw Vancouver as an opponent.

Think about the follow scenarios as I try to illustrate the benefits of keeping playoffs in the division and then you can decide if this outweighs fairness to 5th placed teams that may have a better record than 4th place teams.

Let's say there are two possible playoff formats for comparison.
Format A - Top four in each of the four "new conferences" qualify.
Format B - Top 8 teams between the two "new Western conferences" as proposed qualify.

Okay let's say Minnesota wins new conference 3 and has the best record between new conferences 3 and 4.  (It'll happen someday.)  Lets say Nashville happens to come in 4th in new Conference 3 that season, and lets say that Anaheim comes in 4th in new conference 4 and has the 8th best record overall in in conferences 3 and 4. (Say two points behind Nashville.)  Which opponent is better for Minnesota to face.  Should they travel two time zones to play Anaheim, with a slightly worse record than Nashville, as in format B, or is the closer matchup with the Predators better, as in format A?

To continue with this example and add an extreme, let's say Los Angeles wins conference 4.  Should they travel to play the what would be the 7th seeded Predators if seeding done by combining conference 3 and 4, as in format B?  Or should they get to play their neighbors, as in format A?

Keeping travel down for the higher seeds seems to me to be better than worrying about 5th seeds in one conference not getting in ahead of 4th seeds in another.  I think the travel and TV benefits in the playoffs make it worth dealing with the disparity of one playoff appearance every 14 years on average.  And you'll notice my position was the same when the Wild were slated to be in a conference of eight.  And it's not hard to imagine that the NHL may eventually grow to where all teams will be in a conference of eight anyway.

But this is just one opinion from the State of Hockey, what say you?

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