For a while in early December it seemed like realignment was a done deal and the NHL landscape would look dramatically different for the 2012-2013 season.
The players ended up vetoing a plan passed by the owners that would have reshaped the league, but realignment will again be a topic of discussion as collective bargaining negotiations get underway. It’s a good bet that the previously approved plan will be a close match to what is eventually agreed upon between the owners and players as part of the new CBA.
It’s a silly exercise, because A) it doesn’t matter and B) so many other circumstances would have been different, but let’s take a look at what might have been in 2011-2012 if the most popular realignment plan was already in effect.
For reference, here’s how the divisions would have been constructed:
The Atlantic Division would also feature Washington and Carolina in addition to the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Islanders and Penguins.
Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Toronto, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida
Winnipeg, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and Dallas
Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Colorado, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix
*Four teams from each of the four divisions make the postseason and play each other in a “divisional round” before seeing other opposition.
Washington would have been the fifth seed in the revised Atlantic division, meaning the fourth seed in the revised Northeast, Buffalo, would have made the playoffs instead of the Capitals.
New York would have clashed with New Jersey in the first round instead of in the Conference Finals.
You might look at this differently depending on if you believe the Rangers were exhausted and thus couldn’t outlast the Devils, or if you think the Rangers/Devils series was simply a mismatch. If you’re of the first camp, then it’s interesting to note that the Rangers would have likely played the Flyers (assuming they beat Pittsburgh again) or perhaps Ottawa in round two. If you’re more pessimistic, then you might believe the Rangers would have been quickly eliminated in the first round after a monster regular season.
Again, this is all meaningless, but it’s interesting to imagine how different we might be viewing things right now. If the Rangers had been quickly dispatched from the playoffs at the hands of the rival Devils, then the optimism currently felt by Rangers fans would likely not exist and the organization might be preparing for a much more dramatic overhaul this summer.
Just for the record, the top-four division standings would have looked like this:
St. Louis 109
San Jose 96
Los Angeles 95
So we would have seen first round playoff matchups of:
New York vs. New Jersey
Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
Boston vs. Buffalo
Florida vs. Ottawa
St. Louis vs. Chicago
Nashville vs. Detroit
Vancouver vs. Los Angeles
Phoenix vs. San Jose