Written by Trevor Kraus, Joey Naftol and Alex Silverman
From 1981-1993, the NHL playoffs opened with two divisional rounds to crown the champion of the Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe divisions prior to determining the top team from each conference and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup champion. From 1994-2012, divisions were meaningless other than the fact that the division winners were automatically seeded in the top 3 in each conference. With realignment on the horizon for the ’13-’14 season, divisional playoffs will return.
But just two and a half months away from the opening faceoff, the four divisions remain nameless. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that the divisions will likely be named geographically, but with one division containing teams from Canada, the Northeastern United States and Florida, it seems impossible to come up with anything sensible based on location. Here at Hockey Falls, we’ve been talking over some cold ones (Molsons…always Molsons) and tossing around some themes and names for the NHL’s new divisions.
Kickin’ it Old School: Patrick, Adams, Norris, Smythe
Traditionalist that I am, I’d be THRILLED if the league went this route. I’m too young to have watched a Norris Division matchup, but I know my dad would’ve smiled at the thought of the Blues raising another Norris Division Championship banner. Moreover, the Norris (along with the other divisions) developed its own identity, one that “Central” never captured or conveyed. The “Chuck” Norris Division had a reputation as brutal, bruising, bloody, all-out-war hockey. Wayne Gretzky’s Smythe Division featured a more open, finesse style. So, when the winners of those divisions squared off in the Campbell Conference Final, you were almost assured of seeing contrasting styles, which always makes for interesting hockey.
Each division having its own identity is a good thing for the league. For another reason, one need only look at college sports, where each conference develops its own identity. In college basketball, for example, when your team gets knocked out of the NCAA Tournament, it’s customary to root for the other teams in your conference to add legitimacy to your own team’s reputation. Of course, you can still do that with Central, Atlantic, etc. But even though I’m a diehard hockey fan, I follow the Blues most closely. So sometimes I’d have to strain to remember who was the 5th team in the Northeast Division…because ALL those teams (Boston, New York, Philly, Toronto, Montreal) are, geographically, in the Northeast. Likewise, I’m not sure every Boston Bruins fan could correctly place Vancouver in the Northwest Division instead of the Pacific…because Vancouver is most certainly on the Pacific.
While that argument could be applied to just about any non-geographic denomination, above all, what Smythe, Norris, Patrick, and Adams have going for them is the power of nostalgia. There are plenty of old-time hockey fans out there who’ve been turned off by the lockout. Or the other lockout. Or that most recent lockout. Reconnecting to hockey’s past certainly wouldn’t turn away any new fans, and it might help bring back some old ones.
Modern Legends: Gretzky, Hull (both of them), Orr, Lemieux
I think this denomination is the most likely. Again, it offers a connection to hockey’s past, but in a more concrete way. All of these players are still alive, but their places in today’s game need to be more prevalent and more defined. Since his departure from the Phoenix Coyotes, for example, Gretzky has virtually gone AWOL, and is without a role in the modern NHL. Renaming the division with his Oilers after him could help bring him back. His face and his presence are needed in the game. Picture this: the Oilers (or the Ducks, the Sharks…whoever) advance to the Stanley Cup Final, and The Great One is one ice to award them the Campbell Bowl. Or if the Jets (or Stars/Blackhawks/Blues/Wild/etc.) go to the Final, you have Bobby and Brett Hull award the Bowl.
There’s one concern I can see fans raising: how would the Flyers feel about competing for the Lemieux Division Title, after Super Mario did things like this to them? Would Habs fans want Bobby Orr presenting them the Prince of Wales Trophy after he tortured them throughout most of his career? In response, I say to those fan bases: Suck. It. Up. Respect greatness. These guys are no longer scoring against your teams, and it’s not like they were agitators on the ice anyway.
Geography: West, Central…well, let us explain:
As we mentioned in the open, geographic names for the new divisions is trickier than it should be. So let’s start with the easy ones. The western-most division – the teams from the current Pacific division, minus Dallas, plus Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary – would be known simply as the “Western Division.” It might sound weird considering “Western” was previously the name of a conference, but it’s the most accurate geographic designation to describe locations that include Arizona, California, British Columbia and Alberta. “Pacific” can’t stick around because, according to someone else’s calculations, Edmonton is more than 4,000 miles from the ocean.
The next division over – the current Central division plus Colorado, Dallas and finally accom
modated Winnipeg – would maintain its “Central” designation. Let’s skip the one the NHL has temporarily called Division C and get the easy stuff out of the way. The current Atlantic Division – plus Carolina, Columbus and Washington – could either stick with “Atlantic” or go with the slightly more controversial “Middle East.” Look at that map and tell me those teams aren’t in the middle of the East. Plus, with rivalries like Philly-Pittsburgh, Islanders-Rangers, Pittsburgh-Washington and Rangers-Devils to name a few, there fittingly won’t be peace in the Middle East anytime soon.
And finally, to the crux of the issue: Bettman just had to take the current Northeast Division plus Detroit and then force the two Florida teams in there like a square peg into a round hole. If we really want to pretend this is a legitimate geographical entity, we might use something like “Eastern Division” because that’s pretty much all these seven locations have in common. But the NHL might as well embrace its goofy divisional structure with one of the following names:
- The Flortheast Division
- The “Damn-Those-Non-Traditional-Hockey-Markets” Division
- The Snowbirds Division (or the related “Fly-South-For-The-Winter” Division”)
- The Flanadian Division
- The Flandetada Division/The Candetida Division
We could probably do this all day, but you get the point. Steer clear of geography, Bettman!
A Sad Reality: The Centers for Disease Control Anti-Smoking Division, The Nicklas Backstrom 15-Goal Geico Division, The Amway Divison, The Westside Furniture Division
The sad, sad, heartbreakingly sad truth: everything in sports is becoming commercialized. Only 3 arenas don’t have corporate names: The Joe, Madison Square Garden, and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. McDonald’s has infiltrated the Kings’ practice jerseys, and it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing ads on game jerseys, like in Europe. So why not go all the way? We already had to sit through the horrifying CDC anti-smoking ads during the playoffs, so hopefully by now, we’re desensitized to the sound of Terrie’s voice. The NHL has proven its progressive mindset with the “You Can Play” campaign, and it wouldn’t hurt the league’s image to jump out in front of the anti-smoking wave and lead the charge. The “CDC-ASD Division” would be the one including the Blackhawks, Blues, Stars, Wild, Jets, Avs and Predators.
My god, were those Nicklas Backstrom Geico commercials stupid. And how did Geico end up choosing Backstrom, of all people, as the face of their campaign? Sure, he’s a good player, but was there no one more noteworthy available? Nevertheless, he’d gain instant rockstar status as the only man ever to win his own division. The only question: Can he “make” 15 goals every year for the rest of his career? Of course he can.
The “Amway Division” would be the one the Detroit Red Wings occupy…because the Wings already have an “historic” relationship with Amway. Because it’s the NHL, any good will it earns from coming out against smoking has to be given back. And what better way to do that than by accepting money from a pyramid scheme? Or as Harvard calls it, a “pyramid-like distribution system.”
Finally, we have the “Westside Furniture Division”. Never heard of Westside Furniture? Neither have most hockey fans. But as we found out on July 2nd, the city of Glendale is broke and can barely afford to pay its police officers and firefighters. Yet, there’s still an NHL team there, and in true Gary Bettman fashion, the league is going to do absolutely everything in its power to make sure the team stays there. Hence the worldwide shout-out to Westside Furniture, located at 7029 N. 57th Drive, Glendale AZ, 85301. The new name will infuse Glendale with some much needed cash, and no hockey fan will ever again be in need of rustic, southwest, old-world, contemporary oak furniture and accessories. It’s a win-win!
Classic American Cinema: Youngblood, Slapshot, Mystery, Alaska, Mighty Ducks
Paying homage to arguably the four greatest hockey films of all time would be a great way to connect the newly realigned divisions to the game’s pop culture landmarks. The “Classic American Cinema” names embody the niche aspect that die-hard puck-heads embrace. Hockey fans are a unique breed of human and are the only ones who would watch these movies every time they show up on an HBO channel.
The “Youngblood Division” would consist of Midwestern teams – the Blackhawks, Wild, Blues, etc. – because what better represents the middle of our country than undersized speedster Rob Lowe learning how to fight for success through a montage-style training session with Pat Swayze, seriously?
The “Mighty Ducks Division” would be home of the Pacific Coast teams even though the original, D1, took place in Minnesota. However, D2’s Goodwill Games did go down in LA, where the team also learned how to play hockey, street style. Obviously the no-longer-mighty Ducks would compete in this division and, oddly enough, their current roster seems to reflect shades of those Bombay squads of the past: a Goaltending controversy between Victor “the cat” Fasth and Jonas “definitely not Jewish” Hiller, a combination of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry which equals Adam Banks and Cam Fowler as the Charlie Spazzway of the team.
The “Mystery, Alaska Division” would carry the Northeast plus the Florida teams. Think about it: It’s really cold in the northeast, and the Lightning and Panthers are overlooked by the rest of the league just as the state of Alaska is overlooked by the rest of the U.S. This assortment of teams lacks any geographical sense: it’s a mystery what they have in common and they might as well be in Alaska compared to one another. This name also works because the Lightning and Panthers have the same chance of competing against their far superior opponents as Mystery, Alaska’s amateur hockey team had going up against the Rangers; but they play the game for a reason, folks.
Finally the “Slapshot Division” would take over for the Atlantic plus Columbus, Carolina and Washington division. Since Slapshot is the lone comedy on the list, it’s the division that has, hands down, the group of teams with the most hilarious story lines: the Flyers’ salary cap management, Marc Andre Fleury in late April, Alexander Ovechkin winning the Hart last year, Bobrovsky joining the force and the Islanders, to name a few. Just like the Mighty Ducks Division, there’s a handful of similarities to players in the Slapshot division. Obviously the Schenn bros in Philly or the Staal bros in Carolina represent the Hansen brothers, one could argue that Ned Brayden was Sidney Crosby before Sidney Crosby with the whole refusing to fight and get dirty thing, and hopefully Ilya Bryzgalov stays within the division because he would be the perfect Denis Lemieux.
So there you have it: the NHL has quite a few options. Now lets see how Bettman screws it up. (UPDATE: Like this: Pacific, Central, Atlantic and Metropolitan)