Realignment was a hot NHL topic last season after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, because it opened the door to shifting teams around to make travel a little more equitable. Why, for example, are the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference when they play in a city only a four-hour drive from Toronto? While that would be an easy flip, there was also talk of realigning the whole league into four divisions and doing away with the conference playoff format altogether.
After the last lockout ended, the NHL introduced the shootout, which I’d guess brought many fans back into the fold. It was a new wrinkle that generated a significant amount of buzz for a league that badly needed it after torching an entire season. So, will the owners and players pull another rabbit out of their hat whenever the game returns? What will said rabbit look like?
If I had to guess, I’d say realignment and/or tinkering with the playoff format. The just-completed MLB season introduced for the first time a one-game play-in that pulled more teams into the playoff race and thus kept interest high in more markets for a longer period of time. That can only be a good thing for professional sports leagues, whose main interest is making money.
In fact, the last NHL CBA contained a provision for doing just that:
What changes would you like to see coming out of this work stoppage?
Mac the Knife said:
Go to a 5-division alignment, each with 6 teams. Go ahead and expand the playoffs to 24 teams, but with a new round-by-round format:
Preliminary Round: one game. (seeds #9 through #24)
Opening Round: one game. (seeds #1 through #8 plus 8 survivors from Preliminary Round)
Quarter-Final: best-of-three. (8 survivors from Opening Round)
Semi-Final: best-of-five. (4 survivors from Quarter-Final)
Stanley Cup Final: best-of-seven.