Introducing the Morning Skate, a new daily NHL column here at SB Nation. Save your compliments on the clever title for later. Let's pick some low-hanging fruit for our first edition: NHL realignment. Always fun.
A little over four weeks ago, President Barack Obama gave a major speech to Congress. It was wrought with anticipation after a media-manufactured "feud" between the President and Speaker John Boehner pushed the address back one day from its originally scheduled date. The topic of that speech, a comprehensive jobs plan, made it essential must-see television for the majority of Americans.
Presidential addresses, whether from the Oval Office or in front of a joint session of the legislature, typically take place at 9 p.m. ET. It's not too late on the East Coast, and it's not to early on the West Coast. The happy medium. It's the same reason why Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Football kick off just before 9 p.m. each week.
This speech was different, however. Obama took to the podium two hours earlier at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT, and for a President that was using this out-of-the-ordinary address as an attempt to change the political conversation by going directly to The People, the fact that he did so at a time when millions of those People were still at work speaks volumes who really runs things around these parts.
You see, football was also on the docket that Thursday evening, and if the President spoke at 9 p.m. (or even at 8 p.m.), the kickoff of the 2011 NFL season would have been delayed. And that's just not going to happen. The networks, which typically grant the White House any prime time air it requests, would never allow it.
It was bad enough that NBC had to push its elaborate pregame show onto basic cable due to the speech. One affiliate in Wisconsin actually opted to keep the pregame show on, pushing the President of the United States to some secondary digital channel. Channel 238.6 or something.
Football is the big money maker. A pesky Presidential address to Congress is just an annoying inconvenience. TV runs things and they wanted football over the President. It's really that simple, and that they got their way goes to show just how much power television has in running the world around us.
It's not to the same extent as football kicking the President back two hours, but television runs things in the hockey world just as well. It's why you've never seen (or will never see) a Canadian team in the Winter Classic, or why the Toronto Maple Leafs are almost never seen on Versus.
Canadian teams are obviously horrible draws on American television. They don't have (many) fans here. Florida Panthers fans complaining about never seeing their team on national television have the same market effects to blame. Ratings are the big driving force when it comes to just about everything, and with the NHL is so reliant on their budding relationship with NBC, appeasing them is a major concern in just about every league matter.
That includes league realignment, and it's why a divisional system that takes into account the concerns of television is one that not only makes sense in the conceptual stage, but also could actually play out in real life.
That means a Canadian Division. That means grouping the big-money draws in the Northeast together with each other, and yes, that means isolating the teams that the networks don't want to see.
For the graphically impaired, here's how things shape up.
|Ottawa||NY Rangers||Columbus||Carolina||San Jose|
|Winnipeg||New Jersey||St. Louis||Tampa Bay||Los Angeles|
The first thing you'll notice about this concept is that the divisions are uneven, and there are no conferences. It's a radical shift as compared to the system we have today, but that doesn't mean it can't work.
The case for this alignment is simple: It's absolutely perfect for television, and by proxy, perfect for the league. Maximum television revenue means maximum league revenue, and both CBC and NBC don't have to worry much about those pesky international invaders from across the border under this system.
Uneven divisions can work just fine. It just requires a much different playoff system. Consider something along the lines of what Major League Baseball employs, with divisional winners automatically qualifying for the postseason and the rest of the participants gaining entry via a wild card format. We'll just have more wild card teams than they do.
Using the 2010-11 NHL standings, let's break down which teams would have made the postseason under this format last year. Vancouver would have taken the Canadian Division crown, Washington would have taken the auto-bid in the Northeast, Detroit would be your champion in the Central, Tampa Bay in the South and San Jose in the West.
One of the biggest issues with the current NHL playoff system is the lack of balance between the two conferences. Dallas and Calgary both finished with more points than the New York Rangers last year, but the Rangers made the playoffs while those other two went home early.
Under this system, that wouldn't happen. The remaining 11 playoff spots would all be determined by the wild card format, and that means the following non-division winners would have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Anaheim, Nashville, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal, Buffalo and Dallas.
That sounds much more fair, doesn't it? The playoff races are still going to be just as ridiculous as they are today, but now there's fairness in the system. There's still a lot of value in winning your division because much like today, it would guarantee a top seed in the postseason. Match ups would be based on overall seed: 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc.
And now, those divisions make much more sense. They're aligned mostly on geographic lines, and while the travel might not be all that great for the Canadian teams, the benefits of an All-Canada division certainly outweigh that one negative. It's a travesty that some Canadian teams only play others a few times a year now. That's fixed in this scenario.
Fans in the South and West might complain of some sort of competitive imbalance, but really, this just guarantees that teams from those divisions will be positioned with a top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's no worse than the Southeast Division today. In fact, in many ways it's better because, for the most part, the rich teams compete directly with their peers and the smaller market clubs are compete directly with each other.
Most importantly, though, television gets its way. Sure, we won't see many games from that South Division on national television, but those teams aren't reaping those benefits as it is, and trying to create false interest in those games on a national stage is not a winning proposition for anybody.
Instead, CBC can run a million Canada vs. Canada games a year, NBC and Versus can love the hell out of that Northeast Division, and the entire league can reap the financial benefits.
Morning Skate runs Monday through Friday.