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A radical NHL re-alignment proposal from Vintage Leaf

At the end of December, I repeated my call for an end to overtime in the regular season, along with the old-in-the-tooth shootout.

Later, in my post on contraction a couple of weeks back, I stressed that the quality of hockey could be even better with a “smaller” league size:  That is, if we could, say, whittle our way down to only 24 teams. (I made it clear in the post that this was not an attempt to criticize current franchises or their fans, or an effort to pick on certain U.S. markets.  It is simply a discussion point.)

As I mentioned at the time, I well recognize that the NHL would never consider this.  But I wanted to go through this, if only as an exercise of sorts.

To flesh out the point, I wanted to work to pare things down to two 12-team Conferences.  Here’s how it all might look:

Eastern Conference 
  • Montreal
  • Boston
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Quebec City (former New Jersey franchise?)
  • Toronto
  • Detroit
  • Chicago
  • Ottawa
  • Buffalo
  • Washington or Tampa Bay
Western Conference 
  • St. Louis
  • Colorado
  • Vancouver
  • Edmonton
  • Calgary
  • Minnesota
  • Los Angeles
  • Nashville
  • Anaheim
  • San Jose
  • Dallas
  • Winnipeg (former Phoenix franchise?)
The above set-up still has Florida representation (if we kept Tampa Bay instead of Washington; you really don’t need two Florida teams), the U.S. west coast (LA, San Jose) and mid-southern exposure in Nashville and Dallas.

We would then have an appropriate number of Canadian-based teams (8 out of 24), and an overall franchise number that seems to make sense given the reality of where hockey sits on the North American sports landscape. (Major League baseball, the NBA and NFL have between 30-32 teams.  24 seems right for hockey.)

In this arrangement, we would still have the original “Original Six” franchises— and in the same Conference, finally. We would also maintain five of the original six “expansion” franchises from 1967-’68 (11 teams from what I call “the Original Twelve”.  Click on that link to see my earlier story on that subject.)

Better conference alignment would see rivalries instantly be re-ignited, including Toronto-Detroit, Montreal-Quebec, Chicago-Boston, just like the good old days.

Yes, we would have to move two franchises- Phoenix and New Jersey.  (With the Devils gone we would lose some history with all the Cups they have won, but the NFL, for example, has successfully moved teams in its long history with championship history behind them; Major League baseball as well.)

Otherwise, we would lose Carolina, Florida, Columbus, the Islanders, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.  (I would consider keeping Tampa in and contracting Washington, mostly to maintain a presence in Florida, though I would prefer to keep Washington.)
With a 24-team set-up, the league could create four divisions with six teams and even eliminate one round of the playoffs- which now pushes hockey well into June.  A total of only 8 teams would get in to the playoffs.  The division winners advance and then the four teams with the most points, regardless of division. (Wouldn’t it be something to make the regular season even more meaningful than it is now?)

I do acknowledge that, for me, the first round of the 16-team playoff format has long been the best hockey of the year, before teams get dinged and fatigued.  So if I had to give in (to maintain fan interest in more markets), I would allow 16 teams in the playoffs, but ensure that it was only the four division winners and then all wildcards based on points. (I think we would still have great hockey in the first round even with only 8 teams in, but I’m good with either three or four playoff rounds.) 

In any event, I raise it mostly as a discussion point.  We all recognize that contraction is not on the league’s agenda.  But it’s fun to dream about just how good the competition would be.

I would be interested in hearing if any of those who follow this site like the idea.  Send your comments along.


  1. love this idea. wish I hadn't read this post only because now I'm disappointed with the fact this concept will never come to fruition.

  2. I'd only change one thing about this... if NJ's going to lose their team, I don't see a reason to give it to Quebec City honestly.

    If Jersey can't handle their team anymore, let it go the way of the buffalo for now (if the NHL starts to blossom as some thing the NBC-Comcast merger might help) and have them be the first team up for expansion if the league gets hotter.

    Keep Tampa Bay (nix the panthers) *and* Washington, drop the Devils. Move Phoenix to Winnipeg once their new owner loses his ability to keep it afloat (as many think will happen) and this would be a fantastic league.


  3. I like this take on contracting the league too:

  4. America Eastern Division:
    1. Boston Bruins
    2. Buffalo Sabres
    3. New York Rangers
    4. Philadelphia Flyers
    5. Pittsburgh Penguins
    6. Washington Capitals

    Canada Eastern Division:
    Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax, Hamilton
    1. Halifax, NS
    2. Hamilton, ON
    3. Montreal Canadiens
    4. Ottawa Senators
    5. Quebec Nordiques
    6. Toronto Maple Leafs

    America Western Division:
    Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Jose, Colorado
    1. Chicago Blackhawks
    2. Colorado Avalanche
    3. Detroit Red Wings
    4. Minnesota North Stars
    5. St. Louis Blues
    6. San Jose Sharks

    Canada Western Division:
    Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Winnepeg, Victoria
    1. Calgary Flames
    2. Edmonton Oilers
    3. Saskatoon, SK
    4. Vancouver Canucks
    5. Victoria, BC
    6. Winnipeg Jets

  5. 12 U.S. and 12 Canadian-based teams...that's even more radical! Thanks for sending that along.