Could The NHL Add Another Expansion Team?

Since the NHL will be expanding to 32 teams and the two conferences will soon be balanced, why not start cracking the whip on getting a team in Houston?

The Arizona Coyotes seem to be first in line to move to Houston, with the Ottawa Senators giving them a run for their money. However, if there is solid interest in a market like Houston, the NHL should really look to expand to that city with a “fresh” team for their fans with all the “opportunities” of expansion that the Vegas Golden Knights have recently popularized.

As for the Coyotes, Quebec City would love another chance at a hockey team. With Ottawa, the most elegant solution would be to simply change ownership rather than location. No matter how it shakes out, adding a 33rd team to the NHL would be beneficial in multiple ways.

The Idea

At first glance a 33-team NHL seems anything but balanced, however, it does solve the issue of increasing the number of teams making the playoffs from the current 16 to 20 without bye rounds. Admittedly, total restructuring of the conferences and divisions would be required and will upset traditionalists, but there also could be a return to some lost traditions and the creation of new and exciting playoff rivalries. What follows is a description of a possible 33 team league and the 20-team playoff format.

visual created by Jason Jauch

West Division

Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Colorado, Dallas and Houston

East Division 1

Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, St Louis, Washington, Chicago and Carolina

East Division 2

Montreal, Quebec, Boston, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Florida, Columbus, Winnipeg, Detroit, Nashville and Minnesota

The most noticeable difference in this alignment would be that there are only three divisions/conferences of 11 teams with no further sub-division.

Regular Season

Each team plays four games versus divisional opponents for 40 games and each team plays non-divisional opponents twice for 44 games, bringing the total to 84 regular season games. This total is only two more than is currently played by each team. The NHL has had an 84-game schedule before and it isn’t really that big of a deal, just drop some preseason games.

Playoffs

Making the playoffs is where all the fun starts. Having 20 of the 33 teams earning a berth creates more dramatic storylines as the chase for the playoffs excite packed arenas of fans. The following suggestion for a 20-team playoff format also creates two avenues of advancing to the Stanley Cup for all teams. What this means is, fans of this hypothetical future NHL could see two teams from the same division vie for the cup. Imagine Calgary versus Edmonton battling it out for Lord Stanley’s holy grail, or the Caps and Pens in an all eastern showdown.

This is how it would work… Top four from each division (12 teams) play two rounds best of seven for Division Championship. 1st plays 4th and 2nd plays 3rd the one team standing after the two rounds gets to raise a banner and advance to the next round.

 

visual created by Jason Jauch

Next, the best eight teams from the entire league play one round best of three in the wildcard quarter-finals, then two rounds best of five in the semi-finals and finals for the Wildcard Championship, which could also be worthy of raising a banner.

visual created by Jason Jauch

The four teams remaining, three division champions and one Wildcard champion get re-seeded with the wildcard champs always being 4th and again 1st plays 4th and 2nd plays 3rd. After two more rounds best of seven playoff hockey we crown one team the Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the cup requires 16 wins, whether it be four wins in each of the four rounds by division champs or by winning two, three, three, four, and four in the five rounds of the Wildcard route, either way it’s sure to be loads of fun.

All-Star Game

As for all-star game in this or any scenario, just invite the six goalies, 12 defencemen and 24 forwards who are statistically the best at their positions halfway through that season, make piles, throws sticks and play some show-time shinny.

Recap

To recap, adding a 33rd team is possible. In order to have a 33rd team in the NHL, there would need to be significant changes to the structure and format of the league. In particular, the playoffs and divisions would need to be altered. With the framework that I laid out above, a 33rd team is definitely feasible.

 

IIHF

World Juniors: Evaluating The Tournament Format

The World Junior Hockey Championship has come and gone, and the thrill of best-on-best competition is behind us. 

Hockey fans were once again treated to plenty of excellent hockey games and some not so excellent hockey games. Unfortunately, not all countries at the tournament have hockey programs of equal caliber and cannot ice equally competitive teams. In the 20 World Junior Hockey Championship tournaments, prior to 2019, there were eight different countries that won at least one medal. Assigning three points for gold, two points for silver and one point for bronze those countries rank as follows;

1. Canada, 38
2. Russia, 31
3. USA, 16
4. Sweden, 14
5. Finland, 12
6. Czech, 7
7. Slovakia, 2
8. Switzerland, 1

Limiting Blow-out Games

If you were to ask most junior hockey fans which five countries ice the best teams, undoubtedly their answer would concur with the previous list. There is a decided drop off after the top five. The problem that seems to exist are games like the Canada vs. Denmark 14-0 blowout, where Denmark matched Canada’s goal total with 14 shots on net. Fans find it painfully difficult to watch these games and many would say there is a need to reduce the number of these first-round mismatches.

Proposing A New Structure

When asked about the matter, Peter Loubardias (@fan960lou) of Sportsnet The Fan 960 radio, color commentator for the Calgary Flames games and arguably the biggest and most knowledgeable junior hockey fan and broadcaster around, suggested that a format similar to what is done in the women’s game at the winter olympics might be the answer. For those unfamiliar with that system, the two groups of teams for the preliminary round are tiered. The better teams in one group and the lesser teams in the other group. This hockey fan was inspired by that suggestion and came up with the following.

Based on the results of the previous year’s tournament Group A, or as I would rename it, Tier 1, will be composed of the five best finishing countries. Group B will become Tier 2 and would be populated with the remaining four countries that were not relegated, and of course the one team that moves up from division 1A. In using this format, the preliminary round robin games would still be played amongst teams in the same tier. Having teams play within their tier would reduce the mismatches we see early in the tournament and as a result produce a greater number of exciting and watchable hockey games.

How teams advance to the quarter-finals will need to change as a result of this tiered system. All five Tier 1 teams will advance to the quarter-finals and would be playing for seeds one thru five. In Tier 2 the top three teams will advance and fill out seeds six thru eight. The remaining two Tier 2 teams will play for relegation. At this point and again to reduce the chance of mismatches the quarter-final matchups would see 1st seed vs. 5th seed, 2nd seed vs. 6th seed, 3rd seed vs. 7th seed and 4th seed vs. 8th seed. In other words, best in Tier 1 vs. worst in Tier 1 and three cross-over (Tier 1 vs. Tier 2) matchups.

The four countries that advance to the semi-finals by winning their quarter-final game would guarantee themselves a top four finish and a Tier 1 position to start the next year’s tournament. The four countries losing in the quarter-finals would now playoff on the B-side, whereby only the B-side winner claims the fifth and final Tier 1 slot for the tournament the following year. This means, of course, that the 3 countries not winning the B-side will join the winner of the relegation matchup in Tier 2 at the following year’s World Junior Hockey Championship.

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler