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36 teams: here’s how the NHL should organize its divisions
Credit: Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
When the time comes to discuss NHL expansion, club moves, or even realigning the divisions and reworking the playoff format, every fan has an opinion.

It’s normal: it changes the game.

This morning, in a piece for The Athletic, Ian Mendes asked how the divisions should be placed now that the Coyotes are in Salt Lake City.

He’s decided to go with an eight-division, four-club format. I don’t think it’s the ideal format for the NHL since Gary Bettman wants parity, but hey: his thinking is interesting.

But I thought I’d take it a step further, inspired by his text: what will the NHL do if it goes to 36 clubs? After all, it’s going to take a major change.

Because yes, as David Ettedgui said, and as many think, the plan would be to go to 36 clubs by 2029.

According to Ettedgui, we should expect to see Atlanta and Houston have a hockey club in all this. Arizona could also reactivate its franchise if an arena is in place in the medium term.

And don’t hold your breath too much: even if Quebec City could be considered (by default, no doubt), Kansas City should have the NHL’s 36th team in due course.

So here’s how I’d form the divisions with those clubs.

I think the best solution is to have six divisions with six teams, which would give 18 clubs per association.

The Canadiens’ division would be made up of the three Eastern Canadian teams, the Sabres, the Red Wings and the Bruins. In short, the current division… without the Florida clubs.

The three New York-area clubs, the two Pennsylvania teams and the Capitals? That limits travel and strengthens rivalries.

Finally, in the East, the two Florida teams the Hurricanes, the Atlanta team, the Predators and the Blue Jackets would form a South division. Columbus would be there by default. The plan isn’t perfect for everyone.

In the West, Canada’s four teams, the Kraken and the Wild would form a perfect North Division.

The three California teams wouldn’t have to travel far to play in Salt Lake City, Arizona and Las Vegas. It would be a logical division for them.

And finally, by default, Dallas, Houston, Denver, St. Louis, Chicago and Kansas City would form a division where Air Miles would be popular. But then again, no system is perfect.

You need teams that “scoop” a little.

The way I see it, each team should play teams outside the division at least twice. I’m not for that, but Gary Bettman is for it.

That would leave 22 games to divide up to get to 82. It’s easy to take 20 and make it four games per division rival.

What about the other two? We can either redistribute them within the division, remove them (to get to 80, but I don’t believe It #MoneyTalks) or do it like in the NFL.

In the NFL, a club that finishes first in its division plays the other champions of the Association’s divisions. That could redistribute the two extra games.

Then we’d get to the playoffs. In my opinion, we shouldn’t have more than 16 teams in the playoffs, to avoid diluting the talent.

Imagine if the Penguins, Flyers and Red Wings of 2023-2024 were currently in the playoffs… while having lost many players to FOUR expansion clubs: that would be tough.

Another reason why I don’t want too many clubs in the playoffs? It would force a play-in like in basketball, and I don’t think ordinary teams deserve a bigger platform.

MLB has also taught us that resting the top teams too much cuts into their momentum. Over the past two years, the league’s powerhouses have often lost momentum in the playoffs.

Unless we start the season early (which is what Pierre LeBrun and many others want), we mustn’t extend the playoffs. Let’s face it, there are limits to finishing too late.

Oh, and one last thing: I can’t wait for the “1 vs. 8” format in the playoffs…

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