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Dan Rusanowsky Plays A Game of Armchair Commissioner

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
SeagateI’m not ready to jettison the city of Pittsburgh from the NHL yet, but it is really unfortunate that one of the most promising teams in the League is facing such an uncertain future.  Whether a “Plan B” gets implemented in the Steel City, as was the case with the Pirates and the Steelers when their new stadiums were built, is going to be decided in the near future.  But given that news and the possibility of schedule changes in the coming months, what I’d like to do is to play armchair commissioner for a while.
 
Let’s say that Pittsburgh relocates to Kansas City, Houston, Las Vegas, Portland, or Winnipeg.  How would the six divisions look?  Well, try these on for size:
 
Transfer to Kansas City
 
Pacific
Northwest
Central
Northeast
Atlantic
Southeast
San Jose
Minnesota
Columbus
Ottawa
NY Rangers
Florida
Los Angeles
Edmonton
St. Louis
Montreal
NY Islanders
Tampa Bay
Anaheim
Calgary
Kansas City
Buffalo
New Jersey
Atlanta
Dallas
Colorado
Nashville
Toronto
Detroit
Carolina
Phoenix
Vancouver
Chicago
Boston
Philadelphia
Washington
 
You’d love to have Dallas in the same division with St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago, but you can’t.  In fact, it would be great to put Minnesota in that division, too, but the problem is that Columbus is in the Eastern Time Zone and there is no more room at the Eastern Conference Inn after a Detroit transfer.  So, Dallas gets a shorter end with this, but it’s no worse than their current state.
 
Transfer to Houston
 
Pacific
Northwest
Central
Northeast
Atlantic
Southeast
San Jose
Calgary
Columbus
Ottawa
NY Rangers
Florida
Los Angeles
Edmonton
Dallas
Montreal
NY Islanders
Tampa Bay
Anaheim
St. Louis
Houston
Buffalo
New Jersey
Atlanta
Colorado
Minnesota
Nashville
Toronto
Detroit
Carolina
Phoenix
Vancouver
Chicago
Boston
Philadelphia
Washington
 
This doesn’t work quite as well for St. Louis, but it’s somewhat livable.  If you put Dallas and Houston in with St. Louis and Nashville, what do you do about Columbus or Chicago?  Do you keep Detroit in the Western Conference and move Columbus into the Atlantic to replace Pittsburgh?  Would that put Minnesota back in with Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Phoenix?  Do you keep Colorado in the Northwest but split up the Western Canadian teams by putting Vancouver into the Pacific?   Ugh!  It’s doable, but there are tougher trade-offs to be made here.
 
Transfer to Portland or Las Vegas
 
Pacific
Northwest
Central
Northeast
Atlantic
Southeast
San Jose
Minnesota
Columbus
Ottawa
NY Rangers
Florida
Los Angeles
Edmonton
St. Louis
Montreal
NY Islanders
Tampa Bay
Anaheim
Calgary
Dallas
Buffalo
New Jersey
Atlanta
Portl. – L.V.
Colorado
Nashville
Toronto
Detroit
Carolina
Phoenix
Vancouver
Chicago
Boston
Philadelphia
Washington
 
These two new sites work reasonably well with little disruption.  Dallas replaces Detroit and moves into the Central Division.  Do you seriously consider Las Vegas for a team?  Well, that’s another big decision for a commissioner and an ownership group.
 
Schedule and Playoffs
 
There are a couple of solutions, assuming that you want the Eastern clubs to travel more and that you want to see all of the teams at least once an 82-game regular season, which seems to be the sentiment:
 
1.                  Eight games (4 home, 4 away) in the division, and two games (1 home, 1 away) against all other teams.  This adds up to 82 games and is a balanced schedule.  It’s easy to do, but some teams won’t care for it.
2.                  Six games (3 home, 3 away) in the division, four games (2 home, 2 away) against the other divisions in your conference and 18 games out of conference, with 1 game against each team and three wild card games.  My head is spinning.  I’m not sure if this works, but it does add up to 82 games per team.
3.                  Six games in the division, three games (either 2 home and 1 away or 1 home and 2 away) against the other divisions in the conference and 18 games in the opposing conference, with at least 1 game against every team.
 
These are the basic ways to go without a radical restructuring of the schedule.  I would add that all out-of-conference games in any new system should be completed before the All-Star break, so that all games in the stretch drive of the schedule would be four-point games.
 
In the playoffs, I’m for keeping the seeding as it is, but only for the first round.  In round 2, the conference playoffs should continue, but with seeding determined by points.  This would ensure that if two teams in the same division are at the top of the standings, they don’t face each other in round 2 but have a chance to do so in round 3.
 
In round 3, I’m for a somewhat controversial setup.  I would eliminate the conference championships and retire the trophies, which no player wants to touch, to the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Then, I’d reseed and call it the NHL Semifinal.  The reason for this would permit the possibility of a New York-Boston, San Jose-Los Angeles, Montreal-Toronto final round for the Stanley Cup.  Think of the regional buildup that would bring, and think of how that has developed all sports over the years!  Yes, some would argue that people in New York wouldn’t care if the Sharks and Kings are playing in the Stanley Cup Final, but don’t forget that there are more people in California than there are in Canada.  These wouldn’t happen every year, anyway, but if they did, would either develop or enhance the power of the game.
 
At least, it’s something to think about.  Next time, we’ll talk about the influence of the “rover.”
 
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, in Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease.”
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