Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Peter's guest post

Perhaps the most important feature of my blog has always been borrowing from Peter Lynn's blog. What better addition to Features Week, then, than actually borrowing Peter Lynn? -- DW

When Dickolas Wang asked me to write a guest post for his site, I agreed immediately. "That is, if it isn't a violation on your contract with Cracked," he added. Hmm. Good point, I thought. I do have an exclusivity deal with Cracked. But I'm pretty sure that only applies to paid writing, as well as to humourous writing. Mr. Wang isn't paying me anything here, and I'm not going to make any particular attempt to be funny, so please take care not to laugh at anything while reading this, even if you simply have an unrelated funny thought, as you could get me sued.

To put myself on even safer ground, I'll talk about something that holds minimal appeal for Cracked readers but is of interest to Mr. Wang: hockey. As I type, I'm just learning that Sean Avery has been traded from the Los Angeles Kings, in Mr. Wang's Western Conference, to the New York Raiders, in my Eastern Conference. I don't know how to feel. On one hand, more games against Sean Avery. On the other, more random sightings of Elisha Cuthbert sitting in the stands. I had actually intended to discuss the NHL schedule, which may seem to be a fairly dry topic, but if you consider that changing the number of games played against conference and division opponents directly affects your chances to randomly see Elisha Cuthbert sitting in the stands watching her boyfriend play, that might sex things up for you.

Now, the current NHL schedule has problems. Divisional rivals play each other eight times a season, which is meant to generate rivalries. However, it has mostly served to generate tedium, particularly since many of these games are scheduled far too closely together. Several times I've turned on the TV and been simply unable to believe that the Maple Leafs were playing the Bruins yet again. Making things worse, some teams don't play each other at all in a given season. This robs audiences of their chance to see their team play some of the game's bright young stars, and, since the Northeast Division won't play the Northwest Division next year, it means there won't be a Hockey Day in Canada, which is an all-day triple-header broadcast featuring matchups between all six Canadian teams.

I worked out a schedule to solve these problems. I had three home-and-away series between divisional opponents (for a total of six games), a home-and-away series with each inter-conference opponent, and two or three games against intra-conference opponents, distributed evenly according to a ten-year cycle. It was a thing of beauty. But it seems to be irrelevant now, as the NHL is now proposing to realign the divisional structure, going from six divisions of five teams to four divisions of seven or eight teams. The divisions would break down as follows (and you could revive the old names and call these divisions the Adams, Patrick, Norris, and Smythe, of course, but that's just cosmetic, traditional for the sake of tradition, and probably a bad move because it makes the game more inscrutable to new fans):

Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto
Atlantic: Carolina, Florida, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Washington
Central: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis
Pacific: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

Even though this means all my hard work put into fixing the NHL schedule thus goes down the drain, I'm on board with this idea. It's weird to have a conference with three divisions in it. The divisional champions can't play each other for the conference championship; it's not like wrestling, where you can use Triple Threat or Three-Way Dance rules, although that would be an interesting spectacle. The problem is currently resolved with a seeding system in which the top eight teams in the conference make the playoffs. But with two divisions per conference, it's more straightforward. You can have the winner play the winner.

A natural objection is that with either seven or eight teams per conference, things don't work out evenly. However, as observers noted right away when the NHL floated this idea, this paves the way for expansion. I don't have a problem with this. The usual argument against expansion is that it dilutes the talent pool, and the quality of play goes down. However, thanks to the salary cap brought in after the lockout, there are now more NHL players than there are NHL jobs. Many players capable of playing in the NHL are stuck in the AHL or are playing in Europe because the pay is better there than it is in the minor leagues in North America. It's not inconceivable that a couple of expansion teams could field credible lineups given a waiver draft and a free-agency period (especially since they wouldn't be saddled trying to fit expensive salaries owing from past mistakes under their caps.) And there seem to be at least a couple of credible markets: namely, the ones currently trying to get the Pittsburgh Penguins to relocate to their cities. Kansas City has an arena sitting empty, waiting for a tenant. Southeastern Ontario can easily support another franchise. Hockey-mad fans in Winnipeg are looking for a return of the NHL to their city, now that they have the MTS Centre. Houston is the biggest remaining market in North America.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that two teams are added to the Central Division (since no credible candidates seem to exist in the Pacific, barring the revival of the Seattle Metropolitans or Portland Rosebuds, and either case is a long shot at the moment). Kansas City, Winnipeg, Houston, or Oklahoma City are all options (to varying degrees). I'd like to see teams added to the west simply because the more teams there are there, the easier the travel is for Western Conference, simply because the teams that are in the Western Conference actually are in the West. (Of course, the only way to really make the travel as easy for the Western Conference as it currently is for the Eastern is to go back in time and have the Chinese settle the New World from west to east, rather than the way Europeans did it in our timeline. Of course, there may not be a National Hockey League in that case, with either table tennis or dragon boat racing filling its niche in the sports world.) Let's say that the two teams added are in Kansas City and Winnipeg, just to have one new American team and one new Canadian team. (Well, you could say that they'd actually be two old teams: the Kansas City Scouts and the Winnipeg Jets. But even if you decided to bring back the Houston Aeros instead, it won't change matters much for the purposes of divisional alignment.)

Adding two teams to the Central Division would free up a team currently in that division to move east: namely Detroit. Detroit should be the team first considered to move east anyways, not Columbus. They're at almost the same longitude (and both are in the Eastern time zone), but Detroit has seniority. Detroit has a history that includes a longtime rivalry with Toronto, for one thing, and I believe they actually have a legal right to have the first chance of any team to move east, thanks to their seniority. Fortunately, if you add two new teams to the Central Division, both Columbus and Detroit get to move to the Northeast. Atlanta still moves to the Western Conference, as in the current plan. (I've seen a couple of commentators treating that idea as ludicrous. Look at a map. Atlanta is further west than either city. The divisions would then break down as follows:

Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto
Atlantic: Carolina, Florida, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Washington
Central: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Pacific: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

And a map would look like this (click to enlarge):
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

All of that is to say that you could make four equal divisions if you had 32 teams. And with an even number of divisions, there'd be no need to mess around with the current proposed method of eliminating the problem with the imbalanced divisions, which is that the top two teams in each division get playoff berths, and the top four remaining teams are seeded according to their point totals. (I know Mr. Wang is a proponent of opening up the playoffs to 20 teams instead of just 16, adding another playoff round, which would likely be a three-game miniseries. I'm not totally sold, though.) My preference is to simply have the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, period. Say you're ranked fifth in the Northeast even though you have more points than the fourth-place team in the Atlantic. Tough. This is what fosters rivalries: when each game versus a divisional rival really counts because only half of the division can make it. I'd go with three home-and-away series against divisional rivals, for six games in total (leaving three against the remaining intra-conference opponents and one game a year against inter-conference opponents, the hosting details being set up according to a biennial schedule), with these series scheduled at the start, middle, and end of the season. Those last 14 games against divisional rivals would likely be desperate dogfights to get into the playoffs.

And then, once you got into the playoffs, you'd have to beat at least one of these divisional rivals to get to the next round. Specifically, the first round would be the first-place team in each division vs. the fourth-place team and the second-place team vs. the third-place team. The second round would be the winners of those two series playing each other to determine the divisional champion. The third round would be the two divisional teams in each conference meeting each other, and the fourth round would be the two conference champions meeting for the Stanley Cup. None of this current business with seeding; the teams simply have to climb the ladder using the easiest possible system (which is not currently possible with six divisions rather than four). To get out of that first round, you must beat one of the teams you've been fighting tooth and nail just to get into the post-season.

This is how bitter rivalries are born. It's not about the number of tedious games two teams play each other early in the season. It's about one team crushing another's playoff dreams. The Ottawa Senators don't hate the Toronto Maple Leafs because the two teams play each other five times in October. The Senators hate the Maple Leafs because the latter has destroyed the former in the playoffs so many times. That rivalry's a little one-sided right now, even though the Sens own the Leafs in the regular season, but it could be different if those regular season games meant more, if only four Northeast teams could make it and even it the Leafs got there, they still had to win four of seven against a Northeast opponent just to make it to the second round. This is how you get two teams to hate each other.

I'm certain I've run over the appropriate amount of space for a guest post by now, so let me just wrap with a summary of my key points:

1. The current NHL schedule sucks, but a better one is possible.
2. Four divisions are better than six.
3. I'm okay with expansion.
4. Only the top four teams in each division should make the playoffs.
5. The NHL might do well to consider letting three teams play on the ice at once. (Or maybe you could have teams 1 and 2 play each other in the first period, teams 2 and 3 in the second, and teams 1 and 3 in the third, and then count total goals. Just a thought.)
6. The settlement of North America by China instead of European powers would probably have resulted in better televised ping-pong coverage.
7. More Elisha Cuthbert on TV is good (preferably if she wears a wet, white tank-top ala season 2 of 24).


rachel said...

Good lord. I like you better when you're funny.

- "that shady Rachel Empson character"

Dickolas Wang said...

Is that any way to treat a guest?!

P.S. I had a much better comeback but I don't want to post it because some might find it offensive.

rachel said...

Offensive comebacks are the best kind.

Post it!

Dickolas Wang said...

I like you better when you don't say things.

Cameron said...

Oh burn.

rachel said...

Pfff, that's barely offensive at all.

Jim said...

Ok, you're all going to have to head over to Graham's blog and check out the 2nd comment left on his latest post.

Peter Lynn said...

I liked me better when I was funny too.