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What would a 32-team NHL realignment look like?

Matt Larkin
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One proposed realignment would put the Jets and Canucks in the same division, reminiscent of their Smythe days. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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What would a 32-team NHL realignment look like?

Matt Larkin
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Expansion would mean more realignment for the NHL. How would a 32-team league look standings wise? THN takes a crack, factoring in geography of the rumored expansion cities.

Talk of NHL expansion just won't go away. It's pluckier than the ice bucket challenge, despite Gary Bettman's claims last week that expansion talk was "complete fabrication." Investigative reporter Rick Westhead's story for TSN is plenty interesting. It asserts that, Bettman's stance be damned, several senior NHL team sources suggest expansion will be a serious discussion topic at the NHL board of governors meetings Sept. 30. Sources also told TSN a team in Toronto would command a North American sports record $1.2-billion expansion fee via auction. Wow. You need Grand Canyon-like pockets to make the Toronto dream happen. Let's say it does, however. I'll borrow from colleague Rory Boylen and call the team the Toronto Toros. And let's say one of the other rumored expansion franchises comes through – Quebec City, Seattle or Las Vegas. What would a 32-team NHL look like? With a 16/14 imbalance between the East and West already, realignment would be a near certainty once a second Toronto team arrived. Eight divisions of four teams spread across two conferences makes plenty of sense. Assuming Rich Uncle Pennybags shells out $1.2 billion at an auction, I'll draw up the NHL with Toronto 2.0 and one version with each of the other candidates. My assumed playoff format would differ from the NFL's, in that I'd still put 16 teams through. But would it be best to have the top two from all eight divisions comprise the playoff picture, or just the division winners plus four wild cards? I'm guessing the latter.

EXPANSION 1: HEIR CANADA

  EASTERN CONFERENCE Northeast Division Buffalo Sabres Ottawa Senators Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto Toros East Division Boston Bruins Montreal Canadiens New York Islanders Quebec Nordiques Atlantic Division New Jersey Devils New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins Southeast Division Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers Tampa Bay Lightning Washington Capitals WESTERN CONFERENCE Central Division Chicago Blackhawks Columbus Blue Jackets Detroit Red Wings Minnesota Wild South Division Colorado Avalanche Dallas Stars Nashville Predators St. Louis Blues Northwest Division Calgary Flames Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks Winnipeg Jets Southwest Division Anaheim Ducks Arizona Coyotes Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks * I have no problem separating Toronto and Montreal. They spent decades apart before 1998-99, and they'd done little to drum up a legit rivalry since. * Between the Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Rangers and Penguins, I had to boot one longtime geographical rival. I figured the Isles could use a change of scenery anyway, not just in terms of arena. I couldn't break up the Battles of Pennsylvania and the Hudson River. * I know attendance and TV ratings would be a PROBLEM in the Southeast. But, hey, these teams all shared a division in the past, and the best remedy for bad attendance is winning. * Poor Detroit and Columbus get banished back to the West. Hey, it's not like the Eastern Conference has treated the Wings much better so far. The Jackets, though...sorry, Columbus. It's a divisional geography thing. * My new Central Division is one team away from being the NFC North. * How intense will the all-Canadian Northwest be?

 

EXPANSION 2: EMERALD CITY

  EASTERN CONFERENCE Northeast Division Buffalo Sabres Ottawa Senators Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto Toros East Division Boston Bruins Montreal Canadiens New York Islanders New York Rangers Atlantic Division New Jersey Devils Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins Washington Capitals South Division Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers Nashville Predators Tampa Bay Lightning WESTERN CONFERENCE North Division Columbus Blue Jackets Detroit Red Wings Minnesota Wild Winnipeg Jets Central Division Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Dallas Stars St. Louis Blues Northwest Division Calgary Flames Edmonton Oilers Seattle Team Vancouver Canucks Southwest Division Anaheim Ducks Arizona Coyotes Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks * Bruins, Rangers and Habs sharing a division? Yes, please. * In theory, fewer teams per division would mean more intense rivalries within said divisions. So maybe the new Atlantic can spice up the Sidney Crosby/Alex Ovechkin rivalry, which has never really existed. * Expansion 2's new South Division is even more obscure than the old Southeast, but it offers amazing cross-promotional opportunities with NASCAR. * Vancouver has always been the tag-along little brother with Calgary and Edmonton. Seattle would give it a truly bitter rival. The Rain Rivalry? Starpucks? I'll keep working on that one. Sorry.  

EXPANSION 3: DESERT STORM

  EASTERN CONFERENCE Northeast Division Buffalo Sabres Ottawa Senators Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto Toros East Division Boston Bruins Montreal Canadiens New York Islanders New York Rangers Atlantic Division New Jersey Devils Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins Washington Capitals South Division Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers Nashville Predators Tampa Bay Lightning WESTERN CONFERENCE North Division Columbus Blue Jackets Detroit Red Wings Minnesota Wild Winnipeg Jets Central Division Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Dallas Stars St. Louis Blues Northwest Division Calgary Flames Edmonton Oilers San Jose Sharks Vancouver Canucks Southwest Division Anaheim Ducks Arizona Coyotes Las Vegas team Los Angeles Kings * The Sharks look out of place separated from their California brethren, but the new Southwest makes too much geographical sense. * The Coyotes have always lacked an arch-enemy in my eyes, with the Kings being the closest. No more. The all-sand war between the Dogs and Vegas expansion team would be a breath of fresh, hot, dry air. Got a better realignment idea? Have at it in the comments section below. Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
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What would a 32-team NHL realignment look like?