Bettman’s Realignment Proposal: Less Chiropractor, More Sub Zero

A quick show of hands, who here loves Gary Bettman, and thinks he does a great job as commissioner of the NHL?

*crickets*

That’s what I thought.  I have yet to meet one hockey fan, either in person or over the Internet, who doesn’t think Bettman is a slimy, weaseling, unsifted sack of kitty litter.  After the winner of the Stanley Cup Finals is determined, this little suited troll comes out onto the ice to congratulate the winners and present the Conn Smythe MVP and Stanley Cup to the winners.  During this time, no matter where he is, regardless of whether the home team won or lost, the second his little midget self waddles onto the ice, the arena erupts in boos, jeers, and occasionally, hurls debris his way.  A few weeks ago, shortly after Boston earned their first Stanley Cup since 1972, goaltender Tim Thomas could barely hear him while being presented with the Smythe trophy.  As soon as Bettman awkwardly left center ice, the bitterly defeated Vancouver crowd began politely cheering for the victors (they booed again when Shawn Thornton held the Cup, but I’d do the same thing).

There are several reasons for the unrelenting hate of our commissioner, be it his clear favoritism of owners above players or fans, his boneheaded determination to make hockey an “American game” by doing his best to keep a financially troubled team in an uninterested market, his non action regarding Colin Campbell’s utterly confusing disciplinary judgments, or perhaps the fact that he always seems like he has some shady agenda that he plans on unleashing upon us unsuspecting mortals when we least expect it.  All of those are great reasons to believe a howler monkey with a poo-flinging fetish would be at least a slight improvement in the commissioner’s chair, but I’m here to talk about one thing of his in particular: his proposal on how to deal with Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg.

For those of you who aren’t nerds and/or don’t understand the title, I believe the NHL needs a slight realignment, it does not need its entire spine ripped out.  While everybody was distracted with the impending doom of the Phoenix Coyotes, some folks went out and bought the Atlanta Thrashers (another woebegone franchise) and moved them back to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The return of the Winnipeg Jets has been met with much fanfare, with the team selling 13,000 season tickets within a few hours.  While this has been a triumph overall, the move has left a hole in the Southeast Division and a discrepancy within the conferences.  Winnipeg resides north of Minnesota, clearly in the realm of the Western Conference.  This left Gary Bettman with some actual work on his desk, how would he compensate for the move?  The short term decision is to just play the team as if they’re still located in the Southeast for this upcoming season, and I can understand that since rearranging the entire schedule on such short notice is surely a daunting task.  This still begs the question, what to do next year?

Well The Penguin has hatched a scheme, and I hate it with the burning intensity of a million exploding suns.

Instead of a simple realignment (aka shuffling a few teams and swapping one over a conference), Gary Bettman has proposed an entire overhaul of the system.  As it currently stands, there are six divisions, three in each conference, five teams in each division.  One team plays their division opponents six times throughout the year, they play each team outside their division but in their conference four times, and each team outside their conference at least once, some twice, for a total of 82 games on the year.  Come playoff time, the leaders of each division get one of the top three seeds, and the remaining five for the conference are determined by points earned throughout the regular season.  It’s not perfect, but it’s simple and works.  For the 2012-2013 season, if the Commish has his way, the entire division system we currently have will be decimated and completely reworked from the ground up.

In his proposal, the current six divisions are scrapped entirely, being instead replaced with four, two for each conference.  Playoff seeds will then be decided by the top four teams in each division, first round would be divisional play and teams would be reseeded for the second round.  The final would still feature the West champion versus the East champion.   His plan also includes Columbus and/or Detroit migrating to the Eastern Conference.

Admittedly, this does seem a little simpler and will allow for more interconference matchups, but as it stands, those are the only two advantages to this proposed system.  Interconference play is exciting and adds more variety to the schedule, which is great for fans and players alike, and I’m 100% in favor of that, but it’s only one advantage that is outweighed by several negatives.

First off, deciding the playoffs by simply taking the top four teams in each division completely saps the excitement out of the last month or so of the season.  When it’s nearing season’s end and the last two or three playoff spots are up for grabs between five or six teams, every single game counts and everybody gives 110% on the ice.  Great moments happen, players reach potential they previously thought impossible, goaltenders transform into octopi and make saves that even Jesus would look at and go “Oh snap”.   Having a lead in points but several games in hand is nerve wracking and just plain exciting.  By making it purely divisional, you eliminate several teams from your specific race.  In the home stretch, players in Los Angeles have absolutely no reason to care about what happens in Chicago, they can focus all of their energy on one sole threat, which takes a lot of wind out of the sails of excitement.  Yes, that’s what it currently comes down to in the last week when there are only two more teams vying for contention, but now there is the potential for the race to be narrowed to two with a month left to play, and the entire playoffs being decided weeks before the season is over.  Where’s the fun in having the last half dozen games mean absolutely nothing?

In conjunction with that, this also opens up the possibility of a problem that occasionally rears its head in the NFL.  The new format would leave open the possibility of a team with a mediocre record making the playoffs over a team with a better record.  For example, let’s say out of the two Western divisions, Dallas sits at 4th in their division with 92 points, and on the other end, Anaheim (in a more competitive division) brings in 95 points but sits in 5th place.  Despite Anaheim being the better team during the regular season, Dallas proceeds to the playoffs while Anaheim goes golfing.  Especially with the increased play outside of your conference, less losses would give points to teams you’d have to race against in the end.  The best teams should get the chance for the Cup, not decent teams who are conveniently grouped with bad teams.

But I’ve saved my biggest gripe for the end.  Those fancy-pants readers who know their arithmetic may have noticed a problem here.  The way it sits currently, there are six divisions with five teams each because there are 30 teams in the NHL.  Now by cutting the divisions down to four, it isn’t possible for the divisions to match.  That, my friends, is one of my biggest problems with baseball, and the idea of it migrating to hockey is vastly unsettling.  Any sport in where the divisions or conferences are uneven is fundamentally flawed as it gives advantages to certain teams.  Teams in the AL West have a better chance of making the playoffs as they only have three teams to worry about divisionally as opposed to an NL Central team who has to worry about five.  In Bettman’s proposal, there would be 8 teams in one division and 7 in the other for each conference.  Uneven divisions are the bane of my existence.  Even if my favorite team wound up in an easier division, I’d still despise it with all of my heart.  No good can come of this, not in any way, shape, or form can uneven divisions create a fair playing field for all teams involved.

*FINISH HIM!*

I firmly believe that you don’t have to be good at something to point out somebody else sucks at it.  I can’t play guitar, but I can say that Random Youtube Kid A completely butchered the outro solo to Song B and be justified since I’m speaking the truth.  But since I like to go one step beyond, I’m going to propose a counter solution to Bettman’s supposed “solution”.  Keep the divisions how they are (three to a conference, six total).  Make Winnipeg a part of the Northwest, move Minnesota to the Central, and move Nashville to the Southeast.  Geographically, this makes perfect sense.  Yeah, big blubbering Columus and Detroit won’t get to move to the East like they want, but the East coast is stacked and they’re still the westernmost teams out of them all and in the closest proximity to the rest of the Central division.  Also, despite hating this proposal, I do like the idea of increased interconference play, so a tweak of the schedule could do some good.  Instead of playing your opposing conference once or twice, play them two or three times.  Play your division four times instead of six and your conference three instead of four.  This makes 76 games, so there’s a choice.  Either arbitrarily play six opposing conference teams three times instead of two, shorten the season by two games to play your division five times (or extend it by two in order to play six still), or lengthen it by four in order to play your conference four times.  This is an entirely new can of worms I’ve just opened, and I know many fans would hate the idea of a shortened season and players would hate a lengthened season, but if you want more interconference play, there’s really no other logical way.  The only other option would be to stop screwing with something that works just fine.  Yes, we could soften the debate about which conference is more competitive, but we’d be shortchanging teams in bigger divisions and giving teams in a small division an unfair boost.

Bettman the Butcher, hear me like St. Louis apparently did.  Step back and look at this nonsense, you’re buying a new car because your brakes went bad, you’re buying a new table because you spilled your milk, heck, I could even say you’re buying new shoes because the laces came untied.  Do not overhaul and replace and entire system just because one component needs to be tweaked.

*FATALITY!*

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