The NHL effectively leaked plans for realignment last weekend that called for trimming two divisions, creating four larger ones and keeping two conferences. It has never been accused of being the smartest league in professional sports, but its top officials should be capable of handling simple division.
No matter how many times they try, 30 teams cannot be divided evenly into four divisions or whatever the Board of Governors cares to label them. The latest proposal would include 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference. Fairness would be pushed aside because, well, because this is the NHL.
The biggest headache with realignment is Winnipeg, which has no business playing in the Southeast Division. Even the lost souls who slept through class and drooled on their desks in high school geography – yes, that means you! – can see that the Jets are terribly out of place after relocating to Atlanta.
The NHL isn’t going to satisfy everybody, but it also shouldn’t send a reliable car to the junkyard because it has a broken tail light.
Detroit and Columbus may not enjoy the travel that comes with playing in the West, for example, but the six-division, two-conference system generally works.
Its biggest problem is the seeding structure for the playoffs. Seeds should be determined by order of finish in the conference regardless of division winners. However, the division winners should have a guaranteed playoff spot even if it finished nine or worse. If it happened, and the chance is minimal, it should replace the eighth-place team.
Tough break for them.
Overall, the league doesn’t have a balance problem. It certainly shouldn’t make changes that would throw off competitive balance. If the NHL expands to Quebec City or Seattle or anywhere in between, it can adjust as needed.
An easy fix that wouldn’t be disruptive: Nashville to the Southeast Division, Minnesota to the Central Division, Winnipeg to the Northwest Division.
Sorry, Detroit and Columbus. The NHL needs to do what’s best for the league, not what’s best for the Red Wings and Blue Jackets.
O’Reilly drives up market
Ryan O’Reilly finally found a solution to his contract problems, but don’t expect the Avalanche to thank the Flames for forcing an agreement. The restricted free agent, who had a breakout year last season, had been involved in a bitter dispute until Calgary offered him a two-year contract worth $10 million.
Colorado matched the offer for the 22-year-old center, who had 18 goals and 55 points in the final season of his rookie deal. The Flames effectively threw off the Avalanche’s payroll and drove up the market. It also could lead to friction between O’Reilly and Matt Duchesne, who is making considerably less.
O’Reilly will make $6.5 million next season and cannot be traded until Feb. 28. The salary cap will decrease from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season. The Avs aren’t likely to trade Duchesne, who earns $3.5 million and will be a restricted free agent. But they could be prompted to shop Paul Stastny.
Stastny makes $6.6 million through next season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He has been the subject of trade rumors numerous times in recent years. The sensible play for them would be moving him for younger, cheaper prospects.
O’Reilly would have helped Buffalo, which is desperate for help down the middle. So why didn’t the Sabres make an offer? Buffalo has $5.466 remaining under the salary cap, which would have left little room for comfort. Overpaying another player would have been too risky for a team that already made enough mistakes.
Bernier worth a look
The Sabres would be wise to check the price tag for Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, who makes $1.25 million and will become a restricted free agent after this season.
Bernier has a 2.34 GAA and a .913 save percentage in 46 games in the last three years while playing behind Jonathan Quick. He has won four straight to help the Kings’ resurgence this year, allowing only four goals and stopping 92 of 96 shots.
The Kings aren’t in a hurry to trade him, but they need a defenseman with Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene sidelined indefinitely with injuries. The Sabres have too many defensemen, need a dependable backup and should consider life after Ryan Miller.
Miller’s five-year contract worth $31.25 million expires after next season, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. They shouldn’t be surprised if he tests the open market in search of a team that will contend for the Stanley Cup. Miller has a career 2.58 GAA and .915 save percentage.
If they acquired Bernier, they would have an asset in Miller. It would give them the option to trade him, with his approval, before losing him for nothing.
Boucher wants more replays
In this age of video review, a growing number of general managers are discussing whether it could be implemented in the NHL. Coaches would be allowed to challenge certain calls, such as offside or icing, the way they do in other sports.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said he would be “150 percent in favor” of being able to challenge. Boucher envisions a system allowing two calls per game to be reviewed. In his plan, the challenging team would lose a timeout if the on-ice call was confirmed. If the coach is wrong a second time, his team would be assessed a minor penalty.
“There’s so much on the line,” Boucher said. “There’s millions of dollars on the line, really, in all those decisions. The game is so fast. Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes, referees make them, too. There’s so much on the line. That’s the way I see it.”
The way I see it: Players, coaches and officials make mistakes in sports. The games are played by humans and should be officiated by humans. Bum calls are a fact of life.
Coyle meets his hero
NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan issued a verbal warning to Charlie Coyle after the Minnesota rookie showed a penchant for delivering high hits.
Coyle, who celebrated his 21st birthday Saturday, was spared a suspension after a borderline hit on Calgary’s Matt Stajan last week that resulted in a major penalty for elbowing. Replays showed Coyle actually hit Stajan with his elbow, but the hit was near his head.
Sheriff Shanny wanted to make sure the kid didn’t cross the line. Coyle was thankful for the call and thrilled he had a chance to speak to Shanahan, one of his boyhood heroes. The winger patterns his game after Shanahan.
“I was kind of in awe,” Coyle said. “I almost wanted to ask for an autograph, though it was probably the wrong time. He was a pretty good player in his day and I remember watching him a lot. So it was kind of cool to talk to him. … I don’t want to talk to him again, though.”
Other GMs dealing
Sabres President Ted Black confirmed two weeks ago that GM Darcy Regier was diligently working the phones, a common refrain long before Terry Pegula arrived. Obviously, there’s a difference between making calls and making deals.
General managers numerous times over the years have quietly complained about Regier not returning phone calls, taking too long to make decisions on trade proposals and overvaluing his players. Former Leafs GM Brian Burke last season suggested Regier spoke “a different language” when it came to personnel.
The Flyers and Kings speak the same language, which is why they have completed multiple deals in recent years. The latest had Los Angeles sending Simon Gagne back to Philadelphia, where he played 10 seasons.
Gagne failed to score in 11 games with the Kings before netting one in his return to Philly.
Habs GM Marc Bergevin, who served an apprenticeship under Rick Dudley and Stan Bowman in Chicago, continued shaping his roster. He signed Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust for depth and bite, which is what Buffalo needed.
Bergevin grabbed Michael Ryder in a swap with Dallas for Erik Cole. The Habs, healthy again after finishing last in the East, are leading the East.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock after his team was penalized for having too many men on the ice five times in seven games, including twice Friday against Edmonton: “We’re hot.”
Around the boards
• Look for Boston and St. Louis to be among the teams making a pitch for Flyers center Danny Briere. The ex-Sabres star would be reluctant to waive his no-trade clause, in place for family reasons, but might reconsider for a contender. Briere has 109 points in 108 playoff games. Both teams have plenty of cap room.
• Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney, a healthy scratch seven times in 11 games, is getting more irritated by the day. Edmonton’s refusing to showcase him makes it more difficult to trade him. “I don’t want this to be about me,” he said. “I’m frustrated, and I want to play, but I don’t want this to turn into a sideshow.”
• Nashville, in its first 21 games, lined up Mike Fisher, David Legwand, Paul Gaustad, Nick Spaling and Craig Smith at center. They combined for 27 points, or four fewer than Steven Stamkos had with Tampa Bay and Sidney Crosby had with Pittsburgh.
• Scheduling quirks: The Coyotes were set to play three straight games over five days against the Ducks starting Saturday night. Later this month, the Desert Dogs have back-to-back games against the Kings, both at home.
• The Hurricanes led the NHL with 33 shots per game after coach Kirk Muller urged his team to get more shots to the net.
• Carolina was 19th in scoring in five-on-five and had just four goals from their bottom-six forwards in the first 19 games. Seven others were scored by defensemen.
• In case you were wondering, Rangers rookie Christian Thomas is the son of former Blackhawks and Leafs veteran Steve Thomas. Christian Thomas made his debut last weekend against the Canadiens. Steve Thomas, now an assistant coach in Tampa, retired in 2004 after playing 1,235 games.
• Columbus held its annual fund raiser and raised some $275,000 for pediatric cancer, an honorable event to be sure. Apparently, majority owner John McConnell was outbid for the second straight year in an auction allowing the winner to spend time with the Stanley Cup. The top bid for two hours – two hours – with the Cup: $17,500.