In the coming months it should be made official that Seattle will be awarded with a new NHL franchise, thus bringing the league to 32 teams. When that happens I think the league has a unique opportunity to overhaul their overall alignment and have some fun. With that said, here is my proposal for league alignment once Seatlle joins.
What do the divisions / conferences look like?
I would copy the NFL and set up 8 geographic divisions of 4 teams in 2 non-geographic conferences. Here is my proposal in a table along with an interactive google map below it to see how it looks on a map.
I think clustering geographic rivals is a lot of fun and will add some intrigue to what can sometimes be a boring regular season. I did have some difficult decisions as far as placing teams. Separating Montreal and Boston was really tough, but I made up for it by keeping them in the same conference. I just felt keeping Montreal with the Ontario teams was more important, and the New York / Boston rivalry stretches across sports.
Separating St. Louis and Chicago was kind of tough, but I felt Chicago/Detroit and Minnesota/Winnipeg were more important. Other than those difficult separations I think I really like the potential for this divison format.
What would the schedule look like?
Here are two schedule proposals I like. My favorite is the first one where you play 10 games each against your division rivals. Imagine how heated the rivalry's would get between teams like Philly and Pittsburgh when you have to see each other 10 times in a season. You would then play the rest of the conference 3 times, and the non-conference teams 1 time rotating the home team every year.
Now there is a fatal flaw in this system where Philadelphia would only play the New York teams once per season. I recognize how lame that would be. Maybe we could tweak which divisions are in which conference but no system is going to be perfect.
The second schedule proposal sets up a more balanced conference schedule where you would play divison teams 3 times and the rest of the conference 4 times, and non-conference teams 1 time. I think this would be fine too, but I still think the 10 games against your divison would be significantly more fun.
What would the playoffs look like?
The playoff format would be pretty simple. 4 division winners and 4 wild card teams would make it in each conference. The division winners would only be guaranteed a playoff spot but not necessarily a top 4 seed and home ice. The seeding within the top 8 would be solely based on their finish in the conference standings. So if one divison is dominant you could have all 4 teams from that division make the playoffs if all 4 were in the top 8 in the conference.
Based on the Final Standings for the 17/18 Season, here is how the playoffs would shake out
In this example all four teams from the Orr West Division would make the playoffs, Calgary, despite winning their division, would actually be the 8 seed in the Howe Conference. The Calgary scenario is a bit flawed because in this exercise they're only competing with 2 other teams since Seattle doesn't exist in the league yet, so the divison winner would certainly have more than 84 points.
There are no perfect systems, but I think this set up could be a lot of fun while still rewarding the best teams come playoff time instead of having the top 2 teams in a conference playing each other in the 2nd round like the current mess we have.
Let me know what you think of this idea and send me your suggestions for NHL realignment.