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Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

The Patriots’ Run in Perspective

In MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL on September 13, 2019 at 6:18 PM

I’ve been planning to write this since shortly after the Super Bowl, but I was busy immediately afterward and got a cold, and then it wasn’t really football season anymore. 

I wanted to start by saying I’m not a Patriots fan and apart from their first Super Bowl win (over the St. Louis Rams).  I wasn’t really in favor of them winning any others.  I didn’t mind when they beat the Falcons, and I wouldn’t have minded had they beaten the Giants though.

Adam Vinatieri, then only 29 years old, kicks the winning points as the Patriots upset the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome in 2002.

If you wanted to know why I wanted the Rams to lose, first of all they were divisional rivals with the Saints at the time.   I usually will cheer for franchises who hadn’t won before (which is why I was more neutral toward the Falcons than most Saints fans), and I usually cheer against teams who are favored by 14.  That was the biggest line since the previous time the Patriots had made the Super Bowl, and one has not been that large since.  The only time it came close was the 12-point line in favor of the Patriots over the Giants in 2008.

The point of writing this is just to remark on the significance of a franchise rising so quickly in stature in a league.  If you’re old enough to read this, you probably won’t see something similar take place in your life.  Before the 2001 season, the Patriots had won zero Super Bowls.  Although they had been to 2, in my mind (and I think in the mind of the vast majority of fans) that put them behind such franchises as the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens (who at that time were both 1-0 in Super Bowls).

Now, if you use conference championships as a tiebreaker, the Patriots are at the very top of franchises with Super Bowl Championships. 

It took until the 20th Super Bowl for the Patriots to make their first appearance, and at that time they were tied for 14th at 0-1.  But arguably they belonged 17th on that list because before that season the franchise had never won a playoff game.  They would not win another playoff game for 11 years, in the season in which they would lose another Super Bowl, this time to Brett Favre and the Packers.  In the interim, two other teams (the Giants and the Bills) had passed up the Patriots and one other team (the Chargers) had tied them at 0-1.  So when the Patriots lost to the Packers, that only put them in a tie for 16th, which fell to 17th after the aforementioned Ravens won.

Bill Parcells, left, was at one time the only coach to have taken the Giants to the Super Bowl and one of only two coaches to have taken the Patriots to one. The guy on the right is Bill Belichick, who became the third to do the latter.

So in the last 17 years they went from 17th to 1st on the list. 

To put that in the context of a couple of other sports, the MLB Giants would have to win 20 World Series without the Yankees winning any just to move from #2 to #1 on the World Series list.  The Mets, who are 17th, would have to win 26. 

In hockey (I say hockey because the Stanley Cup precedes the NHL), the Red Wings would have to win 13 Stanley Cups without the Canadiens winning any just to move from #2 to #1.  It would take 24 Stanley Cups to move from #17 to #1 (several franchises are tied at 1-1).  So even by winning every year, it would take longer than 17 years in both MLB and hockey to move up so far. 

In the NBA, the Lakers (the current #2) would pass up the Celtics with just one win, but they’ve been in second place since 1963, the year the Celtics passed up the Lakers to become #1.  So the total time to move up just that one spot would still be over 50 years.  Like in hockey, #17 is only 1-1, so one of those teams (the Bucks or the Mavericks) would have to win titles every year for 17 years to move up to #1 as quickly.

Bob Cousy prepares to pass in the Los Angeles Sports Arena in the NBA Finals in 1963. The Celtics would win the series and have been at the top of the list of NBA Finalists since.

To be fair, Super Bowls have only existed since the 1966 season, but the NBA had less than a 20-year head start.  No one else is realistically going to be competing with the Celtics and the Lakers in 17 years or probably even 40 years.  The team that has moved up the most since the mid-90s has been the Spurs, but it took them 16 years to win 5.  They would need 13 more wins to pass up the Celtics.    

The Patriots have managed to have an extended dynasty in an era where that is supposed to be impossible.  No other league does as much to punish success as the NFL.  It’s not only draft picks, it’s the schedule and salary caps.  Most leagues don’t factor in past season’s success in scheduling.  Six of the 16 NFL games in a season are determined by success in the previous season.

There are some measures taken in other leagues to keep salaries under control, but the haves and have-nots are still pretty easy to determine based on salary most of the time.  In the NFL, even if you look at room under the salary cap, it doesn’t tell you very much.  So it’s not all about who’s spending money and who isn’t.  When I checked after last season, the Colts had the most room under the salary cap, and they made the divisional round of the playoffs, for instance.  The Jaguars were one of only two teams over the cap, and they finished 5-11.  You have to consistently bargain for and make good draft picks, and you have to consistently make your salary dollars count to have these results.  I don’t want to get into the scandals, which are overblown in my opinion; but there is no question that making great decisions has been the key to success.

I’m sure there are people who know a lot more about the NFL than I do who can speculate if the Patriots will win again and if so how many before Brady and Belichick retire, but even if they’re done, the last 17 years have still been an amazing achievement.

How the NHL Should Handle Divisions and Scheduling

In History, NHL, Realignment on December 8, 2018 at 7:07 PM

I do have various thoughts about the college football bowl games and also about a certain coach I’ve loved to hate for about the last 15 years.  However, since there is a full week before even the uninteresting bowl games start, my mind has wandered to other topics, like hockey.  (By the way, I updated my college football ratings site after the Army/Navy game.)

If you’re not familiar with my work here, college football is what I normally write about.  I watch a variety of sports at least on occasional, but sports like hockey don’t leave enough time between games to ruminate like I like to do, so I usually only write about the big-picture items for those sports.

I’m hoping people who actually somewhat follow hockey will read this, but I’ll try to make sure I cover all the bases (or the five hole or whatever the hockey analogy would be) for those who don’t.

If you haven’t heard, the NHL has recently decided to join the NFL at 32 teams (by expanding to Seattle). I hope the league takes this opportunity to enact some realignment like the NFL did when it went to 32 teams (except without adding divisions).

The logo and color pattern of the Seattle Metropolitans, who won the Stanley Cup in 1917. The logo of the new team has not been determined.

Historical Context

I did previously write about this topic in 2014; but as that was before the expansions to Las Vegas and Seattle, I no longer think that the Red Wings should be put back in the Western Conference.  I have a section below about what I would do if the geographic balance were to change in the future.

I also wrote about the topic in 2011, but (in addition to being before the expansion teams were awarded) that was before the most-recent realignment and the reduction to two divisions (which took place after the 2012 season).  At that time, it would have been necessary to have American teams from outside of the Pacific time zone play in the most-western division if they did go down to four divisions.  Part of that blog also had in mind expansion teams in the Midwest and Eastern Canada, which the NHL obviously chose not to do. 

I still think there may be some merit in splitting North America into four geographic quarters in the future (obviously with the Western ones being much wider); but with exactly half of the teams (once Seattle joins) being in the Eastern time zone, the border between the Eastern and Central time zones makes the most sense as a boundary between the Eastern and Western Conferences.  It also makes sense for continuity because that’s the current boundary.

I also think it’s a good thing that under my current suggestion three of the four divisions will have an “original six” (I’ll talk about what that means later) member.  The exception would be the West Coast/Pacific Division, but there were four teams from the West Coast who won or tied for the Stanley Cup (the 1919 Finals were cut short by the flu epidemic) between 1915 and 1925 (two represented Seattle, one represented Victoria, and one represented Vancouver). 

During that time, the NHL champion played the WCHL or WHL (for West Coast or Western Hockey League), which went out of business in 1926.  Thereafter, the NHL has had exclusive possession of the Stanley Cup.  For obvious logistical reasons, it did not make sense to add West Coast teams to the NHL at that time.  The NHL would not expand to the West Coast (with the Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals) until over 40 years later, and Vancouver did not have a team again until 1970.  The new team will be the first NHL team in Seattle, and there has not been one in Victoria.

Current Playoff Format and Western Conference

I’ll start with what makes sense right now.

The first thing I wouldn’t change is the playoff format.  I like that the top three teams in the each division make it onto each side of the playoff bracket, and I think it’s reasonable to have the two wild cards to address any imbalances between the divisions.  The early-round games are more fun when there are natural rivalries involved.

The current alignment in the west is fine except adding Seattle would give the pacific division too many teams, so Arizona makes the most sense to move over. This seems to be the NHL’s intention, but I’ll explain why.

Arizona is admittedly only partially in the Mountain Time Zone (for about 4 months a year since most of the year is now daylight savings, which Arizona does not have; so during daylight savings, Arizona is the same time as Pacific Daylight Time).  

Calgary and Edmonton (both in the province of Alberta) do have daylight savings, but it just makes too much sense to have the three western Canada teams together (with Seattle going forward), in my opinion. The Alberta teams are closer to Vancouver (in British Columbia) and Seattle than they are to Minnesota and Winnipeg (in Manitoba).

Arizona isn’t really driving distance to other teams either way.  Dallas and Colorado are short flights away, so it’s not a huge change in travel, although they will have more.  Playing more eastern teams may be better for Phoenix residents who moved from the Midwest, Texas, or Colorado.  I don’t know how long they’ll stay there since they’ve consistently been one of the worst-performing teams for attendance anyway.  For now, the NHL seems to want to keep them there so these are still things worth considering.

This is the current format. Except for Phoenix (black dot on purple), the NHL teams are represented by purple dots on the map. If you need labels, those are on the map of my suggested alignment below. Arizona is purple because it’s expected that Phoenix will be moving from the westernmost division to the more eastern division of the Western Conference.

Conference Alignment and Possible Changes

I already covered why I would want to keep the teams in their current conferences barring a new round of expansions or a team moving.

I did want to address the possibility of the Coyotes moving east.  If it were not to the East Coast or eastern Canada, they’d be fine where they are. If they (or another Western Conference team) were to move to the East Coast or to eastern Canada, I’d suggest moving Columbus to the Western Conference given relative proximity to Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville.  Another possibility would be moving Detroit to the Western Conference, where they played until 2012; but I now think separating them from the New York (including Buffalo) and eastern Canada teams makes less sense.

It seems unlikely, but if a team were to move from east to west, the best team to change conferences would be Nashville given relative proximity to Columbus, Carolina,and the Florida teams (Florida [Miami area] and Tampa Bay).

Problems with Current Eastern Conference Alignment

Anyway, the only criticism I have of the current alignment is in the East. The extreme northeastern teams (the three Canadian teams [Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto], Buffalo, and Boston) were added to Detroit and the two Florida teams.  I would prefer that these changes be made before the expansion since expansion won’t affect the Eastern Conference.

Columbus and Detroit

Detroit had previously been in a Western Conference division with Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, and Nashville.

No one should worry about whether people will attend games in Detroit; it’s more about the interests of the players as far as travel and time.  As mentioned, it’s probably best for them not to be the only Eastern Time Zone team in the Western Conference.

I also think it’s a good idea for the Red Wings to be a representative of the “original six”in the more Southern division in the East. So one shouldn’t be worried about attendance for their home games like I said, but their presence on the schedules may help with attendance of their road games.

I would also note that none of the other major leagues have Detroit in the Eastern seaboard/Northeast division. They’re with Midwestern teams.  In the NFL, Detroit plays Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota in the same division.  In the NBA, they play Milwaukee, Indiana, Cleveland, and Chicago.  In the AL, they play Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota.

Columbus is kind of a stand-in for Cleveland, and obviously there are rivalries along the Michigan-Ohio border, so I like the idea of Detroit and Columbus being in the same division again.  I don’t think anyone currently in the same division places much priority on Columbus as a rival.  The Pennsylvania teams make some sense geographically, but I would keep them in the same division as Columbus anyway.

I’ll admit it made some sense to put Detroit with Buffalo and Toronto, but I still think on balance this is better.  Detroit also moved from the East (where they played Toronto and New York) to the Central at one point in baseball.

Proposed NHL divisional format. The two-letter combinations in black without punctuation are postal codes. The NHL teams are given three-letter abbreviations or initials mostly in white. Since it was hard to see white on yellow, those franchises are given black letters. There wasn’t room to mark New Jersey or the District of Columbia within the geographical boundaries, so I just put black boxes around those postal codes..

Florida and Tampa Bay

The Florida teams had previously been in a division with Carolina, Washington, and Winnipeg (who moved from Atlanta; about 20 years ago the previous Winnipeg team moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes)

I think people should worry about Florida and Tampa Bay.  If you’re going to have teams in such places, an effort needs to be made to attract fans (like me) who have not grown up playing or following hockey.  Florida was a bad team for a long time; but the five years before divisional realignment they were no worse than 25th in attendance, and the last three years before realignment they were no worse than 22nd in attendance.  They did have a relatively high number of points (wins x2 + OT/shootout losses) in 2011 (94), but they had two of their worst teams (of the last 10 seasons anyway) in 2010 and 2012.

The year after realignment wasn’t really fair to judge on its own because it was the worst full season of the last 10 years (2012 was only 48 games, but they would have been projected to do worse over a full season), but the troubling thing is attendance has never gone back to 21st and 22nd.  The Panthers were last in the league in attendance in 2014 despite 91 points.  They recovered to 24th in 2015 when they would earn 103 points; but when they did almost as well in 2017 (96 points), they were only 28th in attendance. 

103 is the average number of points Tampa Bay has had since 2012, and their attendance has been in the top 10 consistently.  This is a significant improvement from the average of 80 points (by projecting the shortened season) in the five seasons before, but I think the increase is due to the better performance of the team.  It also helps that there isn’t an NBA team in the immediate area. 

I thought it would be interesting to divide attendance by number of points for the two Florida teams.  This isn’t a perfect measure because attendance will look good during really low number of appoints even if it’s one of the worst attendances in the league and bad during right high number of points even if it’s one of the best attendances in the league.  It’s a good measure for the more medium seasons, and I think five years on each side is a good sample.

Florida is represented by a thick yellow line with lighter blue dots over a field of red.  Tampa Bay is represented by a darker blue line.  In the two years in which Florida had a noticeably better ratio, I added black dots and a thin blue line to connect with the rest of Tampa Bay’s numbers. 

See the text above for the explanation.

You can see that they both peaked the year before realignment.  

Since it wasn’t a good year in points for either team, I’m not focusing on that one year though.  Two of the four other years on the left side of the graph for Tampa Bay are better than all five full seasons since realignment. 

Despite being a lot better the last four years, Florida’s worst three results on this graph are all in the last four years.

2016 was a little bit better for the Panthers’ ratio, but that’s probably because of the previous season.  They likely sold more season tickets (and early single-game tickets) in the wake of the 103-point season, so despite dropping 22 points there was not a corresponding decrease in attendance that large.

Tampa Bay is selling out its games, and I’m sure that would continue regardless of alignment if they keep winning at this rate (absent some drastic economic decline).  I still think it’s doubtful that if they return to the 80-point-per-year average that things would look like the left side of the graph again with the current alignment.

The Lightening’s 113 points last year is the only reason the Panthers’ dismal showing last season doesn’t look worse on here.  There wasn’t room for Tampa to add more fans to compensate for the increase in points.

So you can compare oranges to oranges (because Florida), I would note that 2008 and 2011 were about the same number of points for the Panthers as 2014 and 2017.  You can see the difference.

2010 was the only good year for the Lightening on the left side of the graph (and there are no bad years on the right side), so it’s harder to make a good comparison.  2014 and 2010 were similar in points, but I would say the reason 2014 was a slightly higher ratio was because it followed a four-year average of 89 points with 101 points the prior year while 2010 followed a four-year average of 78 points with 80 points the prior year.  I certainly don’t think it’s because fans were more excited to see Buffalo and Ottawa than they had been to see Carolina and Washington.  The 2010 season was kind of a turning point for Lightening fandom.  Even though the team wasn’t good the next couple of seasons, the successful 2013 season was just in time to keep fans from losing interest.

Anyway, I think it’s fairly clear that if you want to keep both Florida fan groups interested even in the relatively lean years, it would be better to have more games against teams that are closer geographically.

Other Teams

I already mentioned the Pennsylvania teams.  I think it’s important that they continue to play each other in the same division even though I don’t think the Flyers would be necessarily thrilled about the move since for obvious reasons Philadelphia teams generally play with teams like New York in other leagues.  In other leagues they don’t try to have a Pittsburgh team play a Philadelphia team (since Pittsburgh is more of a Midwestern city) divisionally, but I think it’s good that the NHL does.  Philadelphia is in the same division as the Washington teams in other leagues though, so that makes sense here.

Philadelphia/New Jersey was a particularly good series, but I think getting northern New Jersey interested is more important than southern New Jersey.  So the Devils would be in a division with the three teams from the state of New York instead.

Having a New York team play Boston is a no-brainer in other leagues, so why not hockey? 

The other two North Carolina teams (the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets) play opponents in Florida in their division, so again, why not in hockey?  New Orleans and Atlanta don’t have NHL teams,so the North Carolina-Tampa Bay connection is the only thing that can transfer over from the NFL.

Scheduling Format

Whether it realigns or not, the additional team will mean a tweak to the scheduling format.

Even though I’m only more than a casual hockey fan, I’m a longstanding fan of enough sports to have some strong opinions about matters such as rivalry and scheduling. 

I also like to look at maps and numbers.  I’m more of a nerdy sports fan than one who drinks a lot during games and pounds on tables if you didn’t know or couldn’t guess…not that I’m above showing emotion.

One thing I agree with about the way the NFL schedules is every team has the same number of divisional games (6).  Even before expansion, every team played its divisional rivals exactly twice each.

I also agree with the NFL’s uniform rules about how many inter-conference games are played (4), and every team within a division plays the same opponents.  

With 82 games,the NHL has the luxury of having at least one home and home with every other team. It’s just a matter of how many (if any) more than that you have with teams in your conference and/or division.

Some prefer to have a divisional super rival, one you might play 5 or 6 times instead of 4, but I think there is more concern with playing other teams too few times than with not playing a divisional rival enough. It also should be a reasonably level playing field within the division since most playoff seedings are based on where you finish in your division.

For that reason, I think the easiest and best solution is to add two games. 82 games started in the 1995 season, when there were only 26 teams. I don’t think with six extra teams added in the 24 years since (by the start of next season) that adding two games is unreasonable.

If it stays at 82, that’s 32 games against the other division (each with the minimum of 2 games).

If they follow my suggestion and also have the uniform 4 games against each divisional rival,that would mean two of the eight teams in the other intra-conference division could only be played twice instead of 3 times.

They could just have a rotation regardless of proximity, success, or any other measure.  That’s basically what they do now, but that’s boring.

Another option is (also following the NFL principles) to punish success, but it would be relatively very minor: eliminating 2 games out of what would be 84 versus 6 games of 16 that change completely based on the prior year in the NFL (at least that’s how many games change if you finish in the top two versus the bottom two in your division).

If you don’t follow, the NFL has 6 intra-conference cross-divisional games. Those 6 are dependent on where you place the season before.  If you’re in the top 2 of your division, you’d play the top 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.  If you’re in the bottom 2, you’d play the bottom 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.

So applying this to the NHL would mean 1 and 2 wouldn’t play 7 and 8 an extra time, and 3 and 4 wouldn’t play 5 and 6 an extra time.

I think an even better solution would be proximity.  So even though Arizona still goes to another division, they can still play everyone in the pacific division 3 times except for Edmonton and Calgary.  Put Nashville in that boat too.  Dallas and Colorado can skip playing Vancouver and Seattle the extra time.  Anaheim and L.A. can skip Minnesota and Winnipeg.  San José and Las Vegas can skip Chicago and St. Louis.

In the East, Florida and Tampa can skip Ottawa and Montreal.  Carolina and Washington can skip Boston and the Islanders.  The Pennsylvanias (meaning Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) can skip Buffalo and Toronto.  The Rangers and Devils can skip Detroit and Columbus. It’s bad enough that Rutgers plays Michigan and Ohio St.every year now. (Had to get in my college football reference.)

Original Six

Evolution of logos of the “original six” NHL teams. Except for Toronto, I prefer the old ones.

I tried to pair up non-original-six with original-six so as not to take too many original-six opponents away from any one team.  

If you’re not an NHL fan, “original six” is a misnomer, but it’s the six oldest teams in continuous operation and who were the only NHL franchises between 1942 and 1967: Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and the New York Rangers.  I won’t go over the various permutations before that, but it’s interesting reading if early-20th-century professional athletics is your cup of tea.

Anyway, fans like to see these teams.  A lot of people have been multi-generational fans of one of them.  Others move around and may have become a fan by living in one of those cities even briefly.

It’s like how if you’re an MLB or NBA fan, it’s just different if you go to a game against the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, or Celtics, for instance.  Even teams around since the 1960s (there are a couple exceptions in the NFL at least) have trouble replicating that kind of impact and support when they go on the road.

Correcting the NHL Divisional Alignment

In NHL, Realignment on December 26, 2014 at 4:56 PM

I’ll start out with a disclaimer that I’m not exactly an avid hockey fan, although I do enjoy the playoffs and I start following more intently around April. It’s just not a sport I grew up around or have attended much.

I was inspired to write this just because I happened to grab a sports page yesterday and look at the standings. I just never saw the point of getting excited about a sport 6 months before it crowned a champion. I mostly write the most about college football, and you might have noticed I don’t have all that much to say about even that in July.

I talked about some different possibilities before the realignment in 2011.

In the first two of these possibilities, I was considering the current format of two divisions per conference. What I’m about to suggest is very similar to the second of those. The only difference is I was anticipating the Eastern and Western Conferences would have equal numbers of teams, and that is not what happened. I’m just going to assume the conferences will keep the same respective numbers of teams they have now. It’s not really fair to those seeking wild cards, but on the other hand, it’s good that teams are on a somewhat level playing field (playing surface?) as the other division in a given conference.

When I discussed realignment possibilities for the NFL, a lot of people didn’t like the idea of the Dallas Cowboys being anywhere but the NFC East, even though Washington, Philadelphia, and New York are of course nowhere near Dallas. I find it really strange that so many people are perfectly fine with moving the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference even though they were always in the West and have a much longer tradition than the Cowboys, who are about 50 years old as a franchise. Also, Detroit is in the middle of two logical groups of teams geographically, so the more traditional alignment does not completely fly in the face of any geographic logic.

So one thing I would do is move them back. This would be my Central Division (or Midwest could be another name):
Chicago
Colorado
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
St. Louis
Winnipeg

I’ll talk more about this below, but I think it’s good for Chicago to have another top franchise in their division. This isn’t the 1990s anymore, when Dallas and Colorado were among the top franchises. I understand Detroit would probably rather play more games in the Eastern Time Zone, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to play that many more games against other divisions within the conference as other divisions outside of the conference.

I think fans on the West Coast, for instance, are more excited to see teams like New York and Boston than Colorado and Dallas even though obviously Colorado and Dallas are a lot closer, so there really isn’t a good reason (other than reducing travel of course) to play non-divisional in-conference opponents more than non-conference opponents. I don’t think playing teams in the Central Time Zone is a big deal for Detroit (like it’s not a big deal for the Cowboys of the NFL to play against the Eastern Time Zone), but I am definitely sympathetic to the idea of avoiding a high number of games against the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. So if the scheduling followed this logic, it shouldn’t bother Detroit as much not to be in the Eastern Conference.

So moving Detroit back to the West creates an opening in the Atlantic Division. What strikes me is that along with the likes of Buffalo and Montreal, we have two teams from Florida. Let’s move those out as well. So now we have three spots. What collection of three teams makes the most sense together? How about the Rangers, the Islanders, and the Devils? The New York area also shares a state with Buffalo, and I get the impression from other sports you can establish some good rivalries between New York and Boston-area teams.

What’s left is essentially a revival of the Southeast Division except it’s going to go a little farther North and West. Philadelphia is fairly close to DC, and Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense as an in-state rival. Columbus is not too far from Pennsylvania either. It’s also not all that far from Nashville, which would have a natural rivalry with Carolina (another team that had been in the Southeast Division).

I wouldn’t do anything to alter the Pacific Division as currently constituted, so here are the two divisions of the Eastern Conference under my proposal:

Northeast
Boston
Buffalo
Montreal
New York Is.
New York Ran.
New Jersey
Ottawa
Toronto
(I would also note that if a team were to move to Eastern Canada, you could then move New Jersey, so keep that in mind with the teams below as well. Also see the map below.)

Southeast
Carolina
Columbus
Florida
Nashville
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay
Washington

I’m putting this all on the map below. The Southeast Division is in Yellow, mostly corresponding to the current Metropolitan Division. The Northeast, which mostly corresponds to the current Atlantic Division, is in blue. The Central/Midwest is in green, and the Pacific is in red.

Each proposed division is a different color.  Uninhabited states/provinces are gray.  No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

Each proposed division is a different color. Uninhabited states/provinces are gray. No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

This is the map of the current divisions. New York State is sort of a teal color since it has teams in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions.

Map of the current divisions

Map of the current divisions

I looked up the Stanley Cup Finalists since the lockout season, and I think I’ve done a reasonable job with competitive balance even though that wasn’t my primary objective. The four divisions have all either had 4 or 5 finalists in that time. The only division clearly more successful than the rest by this measure is the Pacific, which has won three Stanley Cups in that time and also had two runners-up.

My proposed Northeast Division also has had 5 finalists, but it has the fewest Stanley Cup Champions. Boston won in 2011, but the last team in that group to win before that was New Jersey in 2003.

The Southeast had 2 champions (Carolina and Pittsburgh) and 2 runners-up (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) in that time and also won the last Stanley Cup (Tampa Bay) before the lockout season.

The Central/Midwest had three champions in that time (Chicago twice and Detroit) and one runner-up (Detroit).

I’m open to additional information I might be overlooking, but this seems a lot more sensible than having Florida teams in the same division as Canadian teams and having another division that goes from Nashville to Denver.

The NBA Crowns Another Familiar Champion

In MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL on June 23, 2013 at 5:11 PM

So another NBA Championship was awarded, but I wasn’t paying much attention because I was at a baseball game where the Angels came back from 7 runs down to win 10-9. I would go into more detail about that game, but the game today–where the Angels gave up 7 runs in the final two innings alone to lose 10-9 and allow the Pirates to complete the sweep–put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm.

One reason I don’t care for the NBA is the playoffs always have an air of inevitability. Since the Lakers didn’t have a great year, the Spurs were the obvious team to beat in the West, and not surprisingly, no one from the West could do so. It was nice to see the Pacers make a run again, but not surprisingly, they could not make it past the Heat. So we were left with a choice between the Spurs winning their fifth title since 1999 or the Heat winning their third since 2006. I was happy when the Spurs won in 1999 and when the Heat won in 2006, but I’ve grown tired of both. I’m still tired of the Lakers. At this point, I would actually welcome watching the Bulls win for the 7th time because it’s been so long since the last time they won. I’d even rather watch title-rich Boston win again, since I only vaguely remember them winning before 2008.

Just to show how much this is a trend in the NBA, I have a couple of lists here.

NBA Championships 1984-2013
Lakers 8
Bulls 6
Spurs 4
Celtics 3
Heat 3
Pistons 3
Rockets 2
Mavs 1

Western Conference Championships 1977-2013
Lakers 16
Spurs 5
Sonics/Thunder 4
Rockets 3
Trail Blazers 3
Jazz 2
Mavericks 2
Suns 2

If we go all the way back to 1962, that only adds two more franchises to the West (the Warriors and the Bucks). Going back to the beginning of the NBA also adds the Pistons (who have obviously won the East a few times since then and the Royals (now Kings), who only won one conference championship in franchise history (in 1951, the same year they won the NBA).

By my count, 10 teams total have won the East, including the Warriors, whom we’ve also counted toward the West. The East was pretty dull for a while not that long ago. Between 1984 and 1998, the Bulls won 6, the Celtics won 4, the Pistons won 3, and two others won 1 apiece (Knicks and Magic in 1994 and 1995, respectively). But since then, it’s been all right. Apart from Miami winning the East 4 times, no franchise has won more than twice since 1999, and there have been 9 distinct conference champions, more than the West has had since 1976. But it’s still sort of a blur as to which franchise got to lose to the Spurs and Lakers anyway.

It makes the monotony seem worse that when the East was more predictable, If the Lakers weren’t playing (and a few times if they were), Eastern teams typically won from 1980 to 1998; and since then (at least until the last two years), Western teams typically won (9 of 12 [8 of those 9 being the Spurs or the Lakers] to be exact).

The Heat are the only team from the East to win the NBA title two years in a row since the Bulls and are also the first team to win three Eastern conference titles in a row since then.
If you look at the overall NBA list, there is a top tier of only four teams who have won 4 or more titles. There is a middle tier of 5 teams who have won either 2 or 3. Then there is everyone else.

NFL teams have had dominant stretches, but there are more franchises that have experience these. The Super Bowl has only existed since 1967, and 5 teams have won four or more. That middle category (winning either 2 or 3) is comprised of seven teams.

In the NHL, I don’t have to go back nearly that far to compare. 7 teams have won the Western conference since 2004. And there have been 9 different Stanley Cup champions since 2003. (Either way, there will still be 9 after this season.) Don’t forget that there wasn’t even a champion in 2005. There is a historical upper echelon of the NHL (Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto), but Detroit had a 42-year drought ending in 1997, and Toronto hasn’t won since 1967. Even Montreal has only won once since 1986 and not at all in the last 20 years. From 1993 to 2012, Detroit was the only team to repeat. These are the only multiple-cup winners in that 19-season period: Detroit, 4; New Jersey, 3; Colorado, 2. Colorado (formerly Quebec) and New Jersey (formerly Kansas City and Colorado) had never won before that period.

In Major League Baseball, no one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row (the last of that streak in 2000), and the Yankees and Blue Jays are the only two teams to repeat since 1978 (the previous instance the Yankees had won two Series in a row). Other than the Yankees, no team has won more than twice total in the last 30 years.

I’m not sure of all the reasons. It might partly be that one good player (like Michael Jordan) comprises 1/5 of the players on the court and close to 1/5 of the total minutes played. I also think being more dominant is hard to hide. You can look pretty bad in a hockey game and still win 1-0, for instance. You can’t get away with that in basketball: there is too high a percentage of good plays and bad plays that result in points.

I used to love high school basketball, and I love college basketball now (although I no longer have the time to fully appreciate it), but individual games during the season matter so much more, and winning one game by itself is what determines advancing in the playoffs.

The NBA is not helpless in light of the nature of the game of basketball. I think something needs to be done to level the playing field, but the impression seems to be that dynasties led by the same player season after season make the NBA money. That might work for some people, but I find it boring.

NHL Realignment Possibilities

In NHL, Realignment on October 20, 2011 at 11:05 PM

On “Mac App,” the site’s namesake and I had an extended discussion that touched upon teams having to travel in sports, and however you might feel about college football, it is an issue in professional sports. Players want to have less travel time, unions do worry about these things, and I think the fans like more local rivalries too.

Anyway, his mention of the NHL (and his team, the Vancouver Canucks) inspired to talk about Hockey realignment, which is necessary because Winnipeg is not exactly in the Southeast. (If you didn’t know, yet another franchise has moved from Atlanta to Canada, so that’s why they’re in the Southeast Division). I’m not an NHL expert, but I do appreciate the game, particularly the playoffs. I think I know enough about rivalries and so forth to give it a try, but I’m sure there are people out there who know more, so if you’re one of those people, feel free to share anything I might be overlooking. I’m also doing a similar series of blogs about college football conferences (I and II so far), and I’ll be looking for input as I get into less-familiar regions of the country.

Anyway, it just makes sense to have match-ups people are going to care about. People in Minnesota, for instance, are going to want to beat Detroit and Chicago regardless of the sport. People in New York are going to want to beat Boston regardless of the sport. And so on.

But like in basketball, Minnesota is probably going to be tacked onto the Northwest rather than a more Midwestern grouping. The existing alignment actually does not have the New York-area teams playing Boston.

Supposedly, the Eastern Conference is against “radical realignment,” but would leaving two divisions alone (except for Winnipeg moving out) and splitting the third really be so radical? I don’t think so. And I just mentioned one thing (Boston-New York) that should be attractive about making a change. Also, I think Buffalo fans would like to see them play the New York-area teams more often.

So I’ll start with the four-division idea. I thought it might be fairer to do what baseball did and create even numbers in each conference (of course baseball has leagues instead of conferences). The 15-team-conference alternative would simply move Columbus from the Eastern Conference Southern Division to the Western Conference Northern Division.

This is one place I wanted input. I was wondering if people would have more of a problem with it being harder to make the playoffs in one conference (which would be the result of 16/14) or more of a problem with uneven divisions in the same conference (which would be the result of 15/15).

I thought this first one was the best based on distance and fan interest, but there is a problem. See if you notice…

Proposal 1, 4 divisions:

Eastern Conference
Northeast—Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Boston, New York, New York, New Jersey
Southeast—Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Carolina, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus

Western Conference
Northwest—Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago
Southwest—St. Louis, Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Jose, Phoenix

My thinking is that it would be better for the non-Ontario/Quebec Canada teams to be all together. My guess is that Vancouver would not want to be with West Coast teams that are so far away as San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim. The other Canadian teams aren’t that close, but I certainly think there would be fan interest there.

The main problem with that is the Northwest would include teams in four time zones. The alternative below would keep each division down to two time zones (at most). This only works well under the 15/15 model. But if you really thought 16/14 was a good idea, the Western Conference could take Nashville, and New Jersey could move down to the Southeast.

Proposal 2, 4 divisions:

Western Conference
Far West: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Colorado
Midwest: Winnipeg, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Columbus

Eastern Conference
Northeast—Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Boston, New York, New York, New Jersey
Southeast—Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Carolina, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

Proposal 3, 6 divisions:

Western Conference
Northwest—Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota, Winnipeg
Midwest—St. Louis, Dallas, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit
Southwest—San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado

Eastern Conference
Southeast—Washington, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville
Atlantic—Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, New York, New Jersey
Northeast—Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto

I recognize there are a few misfits in Proposal 3: Dallas, Colorado, and Washington. Washington supposedly would rather play the Atlantic teams, but I don’t see a way of moving anyone out of the Atlantic list, except maybe for Pittsburgh (which would unfortunately split them up with Philadelphia). So they would go to the Midwest, and I guess you kick Dallas out of the Midwest, but if you put Dallas back with the Mountain and Pacific Time zone, you’re keeping that problem unnecessarily. Then Colorado isn’t really going to fit anywhere. It’s nowhere near Minneapolis, nowhere near Dallas, nowhere near St. Louis, nowhere near San Jose, nowhere near Calgary and nowhere near Phoenix. If you connect all those other dots, it’s somewhere in the middle. But I think Phoenix is one of the closer options of those, and at least during standard time, it’s in the same time zone.

But I think the way I have it above would make Dallas a little happier by taking away the Pacific Coast teams and giving them two Eastern time zone teams to go with two other central time zone teams. Detroit would at least join one other Eastern time zone team, and I don’t think it works with the Canada teams very well unless there is going to be a team in Windsor.

I’m definitely not an expansion advocate at this point (I don’t think it’s good business, I don’t really care as much about talent dilution), so this is mostly just for fun rather than a serious suggestion, but it occurred to me that it could work really well with the 8-division model like the NFL has. I think Eastern Canada is a notorious expansion/relocation target. Harder to say where a second team would be, my guess would be the Midwest (maybe Milwaukee). But if it’s somewhere to the West and South of Minnesota instead, Minnesota could be moved to the Midwest and the new team could be in the Mid-America division.

Eastern Conference
Old Canada—Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Eastern Canada expansion team
Northeast—Boston, Buffalo, New York, New York
Atlantic—New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
Southeast—Nashville, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay

Western Conference
New Canada—Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg
Mid-America—Dallas, Colorado, St. Louis, Minnesota
Midwest—Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Midwest expansion team
Southwest—San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix