How a Potential NHL Division Realignment Could Affect Nashville Predators

With the news of the Coyotes relocating to Salt Lake, division realignment is at the forefront again. Where would the Predators end up?
Apr 12, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg (9), center,
Apr 12, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg (9), center, / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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Gary Bettman, David Poile
Jun 28, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Nashville Predators / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

So, What Should the NHL Realignment Look Like?

It is still more than doable for the league to keep two conferences, that is not the thing that deperately needs to be changed, even if it would be possible to do without them. Where the big fix needs to be is in the divisions, and the NHL would be best off to adopt an NFL-style approach in this regard.

There should be four divisions per conference, and four teams per division. Divisions are not meant to be nearly as big as the NHL has them, so having only four teams in each is a perfect split, and would ensure that teams are only grouped with their rivals and other teams who are actually closeby, or somehow, make sense as divisional foes.

This would also give the league a chance to make the schedule matrix crystal clear, and put a true emphasis on teams playing their divisional and inter-conference foes more than anyone else. Neither of those is happening under the current situation, and honestly could not be when there are eight teams per division.

If the NHL did go this route of realignment, this is what the scheduling would look like.

In Division Games: 6 games each against 3 other teams, with 3 games per team at home and 3 games per team on the road, for a total of 18 games

In Conference Games: 4 games each against 12 other teams, with 2 games per team at home and 2 games per team on the road, for a total of 48 games

Out of Conference Games: 1 game each against 16 other teams, with a game each against 2 teams per division at home and a game each against 2 other teams per division on the road, for a total of 16 games, and alternate home and away for each team every year

In this version of a league realignment, you play 18 games in the division, 48 conference games, and 16 out of conference games. That is a total of 82 games, so the league could still keep the normal amount of games played, and have it be drastically easier to follow and decipher.

There is a real pattern in terms of how divisional, conference, and out of conference opponents are scheduled, and there are no are no asterisks or exceptions. It is much more black and white this way, and there would never be an issue with teams not playing divisional foes enough, like I touched on with the Predators and Blues this year.

Changing the divisions to do it this way would also give the league a chance to alter its playoff format, which is another thing that is broken, along everything else that was mentioned. Under the current system, there is much more of an emphasis placed on divisional opponents playing against each other rather than higher seeds playing against lower seeds, and it is not exactly fair.

For example, in the 2017-18 season, the Predators won the President's Trophy and the Jets took second place. You would think that the teams would not meet in the playoffs until the Conference Finals, but thanks to the playoff format, that was not the case.

The Predators were a 1-seed in the West, like all division winners are in their conferences, but the Jets were a divisional 2-seed. Both teams are and were in the same division, and with the Predators winning in round 1, they awaited the winner of the Central Division 2 and 3 seed matchup, which was the Jets.

See what I mean? The current NHL playoff system is not designed so that the best teams will actually be given the best chance to go far in the playoffs, which is the way it should be.

But under the suggested realignment, there is a much more fair way for the league to format the playoffs, and come to a compromise with how it is currently done.

With four divisions in each conference, the top four seeds in each conference could be the division winners in order of points. Some may not love that because not all divisions have the greatest teams, but there are probably just as many who do not like division winners not getting at least some reward for it.

Plus, with only four teams per division instead of eight, there is a much lower chance of a situation similar to the Predators and Jets years ago.

Even in a clearer system, not everything is going to please everyone or be 110% fair, so guaranteeing each division winner a playoff berth is a sensible thing to do. After that, the 5-8 seeds would be the remaining teams who have the most points in the standings, which in itself is easy to follow.

In this case, the NHL could re-adopt a traditional 1 vs 8 playoff seeding per conference, yet keep what they have done for years and make sure that the division winners are the top seeds. That is much better than letting the divisions purely determine the playoff matchups, and does maybe not a perfect, but much better job of making sure the best teams play against each other when they should.

Now, let's look at how the actual conferences and divisions should be assembled.