The Increasing Potential For Temporary Divisional Realignment And How It Affects The Columbus Blue Jackets

By Ed Francis on October 29, 2020 at 1:20 pm

Divisional realignment for the 2020-21 season.

It's looking more and more inevitable as the days tick by.

With surging COVID-19 numbers across the world, the United States-Canada border closure having no end in sight, some countries going back into lockdown, and flu season just beginning, it's almost a certainty that whenever we do see regular season hockey again, it will look more like it did in the bubble than it did pre-Corona.

But with all 31 teams playing, and two "hub cities" a longshot at best, one of the most important questions the NHL needs an answer for is:

How in the heck will teams be grouped?

It's a question that doesn't have an immediate answer, but we've already got some clues. Earlier in October, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley referenced the Vancouver Canucks "playing in the Canadian division." That's not just a Freudian slip; it's a clear sign that the league is preparing for at least part of a season in which teams between the two countries are unable to play each other. 

If nothing else, that will create a domino effect. Of the four current divisions, the Metropolitan Division - home of the Columbus Blue Jackets - is the only one without a Canadian team. The other division in the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic, has Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. In the Western Conference, the Central has Winnipeg, and the Pacific Division is the home for Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. 

In other words; the league can't just pluck the Canadian teams and call it even. 

While there is no "perfect" solution, a few very unofficial ideas have been floated around that could be categorized as "pretty good."

Proposal 1: TSN's Five Conference, Travel-Based Realignment

Travis Yost of TSN has a lot of time on his hands. In his proposal, the NHL bucks the trend of an even number of conferences and opts for five conferences: one with the seven Canadian teams, and four in the United States, each with six teams. To determine this, Yost used airport locations and came up with a solution in which all four American divisions would have travel time of no more than one hour and six minutes. 

Under Yost's proposal, the Blue Jackets division would look like this:

  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Buffalo Sabres
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Minnesota Wild
  • Pittsburgh Penguins

This would best allow for "regional bubbles" to help minimize spread. It's not without it's issues, but for Blue Jackets fans, the argument could be made that the team should finish no worse than second in that division. 

Proposal 2: The New York Post's Imbalanced Conferences

This proposal from The New York Post groups conferences by location, but without putting a focus on even pairings. Four pairings exist here: The seven Canadian teams in one conference, as they refer to it. In the United States, there would be one 'conference' of nine teams, one of eight, and one of seven. The western half of the United States, for all intents and purposes, is in one conference. The southeast quarter, for the most part, makes up the second conference. The third is where Columbus would fall, and would consist of eight teams:

  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Boston Bruins
  • Buffalo Sabres
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • New Jersey Devils
  • New York Islanders
  • New York Rangers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins

Not bad for travel purposes - and has some shades of the metro division as it currently is, as well. Swap out Washington, Carolina, and Philadelphia with Boston, Buffalo, and Detroit. Under their proposal, teams would only play within their conference. 

One specific idea they mention that could be a winner: two-game series against teams, similar to baseball, to limit travel and hotel usage. 

Proposal 3: The Athletic's Trip Down Memory Lane (For Columbus)

This is the proposal that will bring back not-so-wonderful nostalgia for Blue Jacket fans. Michael Russo of The Athletic suggested last week that centralizing teams by geography would be for the best and gave his proposal. Whereas the Blue Jackets were, for the most part, on the western fringe for the previous two suggestions, they are centralized under his proposal. But be forewarned: this division proposal features the entire Central Division of the Western Conference from the Blue Jackets first dozen years as a franchise:

  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Florida Panthers
  • Nashville Predators
  • St. Louis Blues
  • Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay and St. Louis in the same division as Columbus would not be considered a great draw, but it's at least partially offset by being paired with two rebuilding teams in Chicago and Detroit. This idea puts these eight teams in a proverbial conference of "extras". Under Russo's proposal, the northeast (Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington) is grouped together, as are the western teams (Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, Vegas), leaving the teams across the midwest and southeast to be paired together. 

Are any of these solutions "the one"? No. But take the best ideas of each proposal, and a solution that falls somewhere between pretty good and perfect may just come out of it.