NHL realignment: Let's name the new divisions, shall we?

Harry How

A look into some possibilities now that realignment is official.

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman dashed a lot of hopes during a conference call on Thursday when asked about potential names for the league's four new realigned divisions.

"We haven't settled yet in on names. We're looking at what we think will be the most sensible geographic designations, the most fan-friendly, the easiest to remember.

When you're making this kind of change, people need to adjust, in their own thinking, where things are. And we're hoping to use the names that make it easiest to conjure up in your own mind which teams are where. And we'll probably do that in the next few weeks.

We thought it was more important that we get the grouping out, the matrix out and that we could work on the schedule. The names will come shortly.

This is obviously a very silly idea, considering you have a division featuring two teams (Florida, Tampa Bay) south of the other Eastern Conference division, and six teams (Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal) north of it. Also, Columbus and Pittsburgh aren't exactly in a convenient geographic region to the rest of their division in the mid-atlantic or, say, Carolina. Neither is Colorado with all of the central time zone teams.

Really, the best we can do, geographically speaking, comes out to something like this: you keep the "Atlantic" name for the New York and Pennsylvania teams featuring Columbus, Washington and Carolina, go with something like "Mid-East" (too potentially politicized?) or "Central" for the Canadian teams, the Florida teams and Detroit. Out west is slightly simpler, as everything from Nashville to Denver can remain "Midwest" and Los Angeles to British Columbia "Pacific". But you're not going to get a truly satisfying or logical answer by keeping the names geographic.

Why don't we help out the poor commissioner and do this whole thing like we used to? The NHL is about tradition, so why don't we do what the league did from 1974 to 1993 and give these divisions real names? There's plenty of ideas, both traditional and new wave. Let's go through all of the possibilities, at least as I see them.

Do it the way we used to. There's nothing that necessarily says going back to those four divisions we had from 1974-93 (Patrick, Adams, Norris, Smythe) would be a bad thing. Though anyone under 40 would finally understand what the hell Chris Berman is always yammering about when he says the Chicago Bears play "in the NFC Norris Division", and do we really want that? Plus, Detroit wouldn't be in it and a bunch of teams from the last time around would be in different divisions than they were last time, so it might just be good to start fresh.

"Modern Legends" One of the more consistent ideas pushed by NHL fans is to name the divisions after the four seemingly unanimous legends of more recent eras. We are of course talking about Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe.

I'm all for it, but there are obviously some flaws here. First, some might feel odd about naming divisions after men who are still living. Plus, while obviously you would name the Gretzky after the division with the California teams and Edmonton, and Lemieux would for sure be Pittsburgh's division, which division is the Howe and the Orr? Boston and Detroit are in the same division, so do you name the midwest division after Gordie despite him never having played for any of those clubs? At least Bobby Orr finished as a Blackhawk...

Founders. A combination of a little bit of everything here, a way to celebrate some of the founders of the game as well as some of the modern legends. Keep the pacific division named after Gretzky, revert to the Patrick and Norris divisions in the mid-atlantic and midwest, but name the division with Boston and the Florida teams after another living legend, one Phil Esposito. This has been a pet idea of mine for some time now. How cool would it be to win the Esposito Division?

Espo, for the uninitiated, spent the best nine seasons of his career with the Boston Bruins, where he became the first player to score 70 goals in a season in 1970-71 and winning two Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. He finished his career in New York, but had his number retired in Boston. He later was partially responsible for the growth of hockey in Florida, as he helped found the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992.

Oh god, they're just gonna' sell the division names, aren't they? Be honest, would it make you that angry if your team won the Honda Division? Or even just, say, if they gave out the "Honda Cup" to the winner of the Atlantic Division? Look, everything's for sale these days, and outside of presumably the Stanley Cup, there isn't much you can't slap a sponsor name on in the National Hockey League. Based on the league's current partners, you'd probably end up with Honda, Bridgestone, Pepsi and Geico. I mean, at some point you just have to accept the future, right?

Canadian Provinces. Canadians are always complaining about how Americans -- specifically Gary Bettman and crew -- are ruining their country's beloved pastime. So how about we rename every division after one of the Canadian provinces? There would be the, uh... Nunavetipeg, the Saskatoumi, the Poutario and the Trebeck. There Canada, are we properly taking care of "your game" now? You're welcome!

***
There's probably no realistic way to satisfy hockey fans with the naming of the realigned divisions. Geographic names won't make any sense, returning to the past may confuse younger fans, and naming divisions after non-dead people seems a little creepy. Perhaps the most realistic solution is to just keep the names at their most basic. A, B, C and D. Who doesn't want the honor of winning Division D? Oh, I give up already. Just name them whatever and let's move on with the current season.

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