Geographic conferences are the dumbest thing the league can do. All you're doing is ensuring that "success" is spread across the country geographically, and not based on quality of team.
Look at baseball. Every year, one division champ makes the playoffs who wouldn't get in except for the fact that they play in the easy division. Now in hockey, 16 of 30 make the playoffs. So what does "winning a division" do for you? Nothing.
In hockey, there's no problem with season-long interleague play like in baseball. All the issues with scheduling in baseball are not a problem in hockey. Yet hockey doesn't get it at all, and hockey is still trying to find ways to make the sport appealing to more people. Here's an idea that solves everything:
#1 - Eliminate geographic conferences/divisions.
#2 - Divide into two conferences similar to baseball's leagues:
Prince of Wales Conference: BOS, MON, TOR, PHI, NYR, CHI, DET, WASH, ATL, FLA, CAL, LA, SJ, MIN, COL
Clarence Campbell Conference: NYI, OTT, NJ, BUF, PIT, STL, TB, CAR, CBJ, EDM, VAN, ANA, DAL, NASH, PHX
What this does is makes teams in the same geographical area not succeed at the expense of those around them. Currently, for the Rangers to be good, the Islanders need to be not as good. Those teams compete for the same prize... and fan base. Under a "baseball-style" conference arrangement, an Islanders fan is going to root for the Rangers when they play NJ or Ottawa.
Let's say you live halfway between Edmonton and Calgary. You pick a team, love one and hate the other. If they're in separate conferences, you might pick one and still root for the other. You might even spend money at the other venue when big stars come to town!
Now, to combat the argument that you lose money, you simply schedule the same number of games against everyone in your conference (so the standings are pure) and then use the remaining games to schedule games people want to see.
Four games against your conference (56 games)
Four games vs six regional rivals from other conference (24 games)
One game against four teams from other conference by time zone (4 games)
Five teams you don't face (total of 84 games).
Oh, and under this alignment, the Original Six are playing each other 24 times.
Minnesota doesn't like all the West Coast travel because they play: at Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary 3 times each (9 games); at San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix and LA two times each (8 games). That's 17 West Coast Trips.
Under this plan, Minnesota would play: at LA, SJ twice each (4 games), at EDM, VAN, ANA twice each (6 games). That's 10 West coast trips.
Now, if you're CAL, LA, SJ, EDM, VAN, ANA... under my proposal there's 24 road games in conference vs Central/East time zone teams. Of their 28 out of conference games, 14 are on the road, but eight of them are on the West Coast/Mountain Time against former rivals. That's 30 games in the Central/East time zone.
Which sounds like a lot, but those teams are already playing NINE road games at East Conference teams, plus two road trips each to DET, CHI, STL, CBJ, NASH, and five between DAL/MIN. That's 24 games in the Central/East time zone in a year as is.
22 teams see reduced travel at the expense of eight (one of whom may be moving to Southern Ontario).
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