Why realignment is scary for the Canucks; conversely, why it’s really, really awesome

Henrik Sedin tries to contain his excitement for another game versus the Minnesota Wild.

With realignment reported to be on the horizon, this may be the final year the Vancouver Canucks get to reap the benefits of playing in the Northwest Division, the lamest party of five since season five of Party of Five. It’s a truly abysmal hellscape of a grouping, with one team team in contention and four teams that, through the first third of the season, are decidedly not.

At the time of this writing, the Canucks are the only Northwest team that isn’t amongst the league’s 10 worst teams. And in the Western Conference, only the futility of the Columbus Blue Jackets prevents the Northwest from occupying spots 12 – 15.

How bad is it? Colorado, Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary are all sitting at about 17 points through 17 games. Supposing they keep up this pace, they’ll all finish below 50 points. If 50 points is all it takes to win the Northwest Division, the Canucks would need just 13 more wins. There are 30 games remaining.

Safe to say, barring a major meltdown from the Canucks combined with a surprising run from one of the four other clubs, the Canucks will coast to their fifth straight Northwest Division title.

But it may also be the last Northwest Division title. NHL realignment, which was announced in December of 2011 only to be quashed by a player’s union looking to make a statement, is back on the table. This time around it looks like it’s going to go through. If it does, the Canucks can say goodbye to divisional easy mode.

The NHL is done with the six-division format. From ESPN:

The NHL is proposing a new realignment plan which would feature playoff wild-card spots plus see the league go from six divisions to four.

[...] The new plan calls for divisional playoffs, not conference playoffs as the NHL currently has. The division winner with the most regular-season points will play the lowest-seeded wild-card team in the first round, with the other division winner playing the other wild-card team.

The Pacific Division would feature Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

Thus, the Canucks say goodbye to the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild (yay!), and say hello to the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes.

If you’re at all familiar with these teams, you know that they don’t go down quite as easy as the foes Vancouver has grown accustomed to. They’re good. That in mind, a cursory look at this realignment plan tells you that the Canucks don’t make out all that well.

A closer look will tell you the same thing, and blogger James W. Grayson has done the appropriate legwork to make the point. Using Fenwick close as a metric, James has taken a look at the change in average in-group competition all 30 NHL teams will face under the realignment plan. (Quick definition: Fenwick is shots directed at the net, minus those that are blocked. Close Fenwick is that, but only when the score is tied or within one, when both teams are typically playing their best game.) According to the chart, the Canucks see a drastic change:

Yes, with the dissolution of their current party of five, the Canucks are done having the time of their life. (Which, as it happens, was the name of Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s short-lived Party of Five spinoff. Trivia!)

There are a few bright sides to this realignment, however. For one thing, the Canucks no longer have to share a division with the Minnesota Wild and their excruciating brand of hockey. That alone might be worth a drastic loss of competitive advantage.

But there’s more than that. First of all, playing tougher competition may have the indirect result of making the Canucks tougher to play in the playoffs by  keeping them more dialled in as the postseason approaches. The Canucks took their foot off the gas late last year, and by the time they were back up to speed, they were trailing the LA Kings two games to zero. Slough courses are nice, but they leave people unprepared for the real world. As Daniel reminded us last year, iron sharpens iron:

Because the Canucks play more games against Northwest Division opponents, those teams should ideally be challenges for the Canucks. According to the ProverbsAs iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Instead, the Canucks’ Northwest Division opponents have been dull and unimposing for the last couple years. The Canucks have a combined 17-4-1 record against the Northwest this season, far better than their record against the rest of the league. The team is not well-served by having their most frequent opponents provide so little a challenge.

I mean, look at that sign up there. The guy didn’t even spell “too” properly. Even the fans have gotten lazy in this division.

But really, the “competition” angle is short-sighted. Remember when the Northwest Division was hockey’s best? It wasn’t that long ago. Things change. People will suggest the sky is falling because the Canucks are going to a division that’s harder, and that may be true for next year, at the very least, but it won’t always be true. (Except for Calgary and Edmonton, so long as they’re run by the guys currently running them.)

Finally — and this is the reason you should be excited about this realignment plan, short-term headaches notwithstanding — the Canucks will be making more California road trips. This means you have the option of making more California road trips. Great, cheap hockey, a highway littered with rows upon rows of orange trees, gorgeous grassy hills and In-N-Outs as far as the eye can see?

Plus, to really get your money’s worth, follow the team over to Phoenix and see a marvel for the modern Vancouverite: an efficient freeway through the downtown core.

It’s heaven. Truly. All hail realignment.

s/t to Thomas Drance for the link.

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38 comments

  1. not Cam Charron
    February 26, 2013

    What might be a fun thing to do is see what the Canucks’ Fenwick record is against the division as opposed to out of the division for the last three years or so.

    If only there was a blogger who had the know how to do it.

    /spots Bat-light, loads up Timeonice.com

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 26, 2013

      Godspeed, commenter who has the obsessive nerdiness of Cam Charron but claims to be someone else. Godspeed.

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  2. Canuckfaninsf
    February 26, 2013

    I don’t know about cheaper. Tickets at the HP Pavilion. It’s in the same ballpark as Rogers Arena tickets. :(

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      February 27, 2013

      It’s expensive I agree, but Rogers Arena is still significantly more.

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  3. gretchen grouse
    February 26, 2013

    Regarding “don’t go down quite as easy (sic)….” SIck:

    I’m Gretchen Grouse the grammar geek,
    Watching the way we write and speak.
    This peeve while parsing most perturbs:
    Unwitting waste of good adverbs!

    It’s not done “easier” you see,
    But it’s performed “more easily”.
    And how much better does it sound,
    So seemingly much more profound.

    When doing “good” or doing “well”,
    Be helping folks or feeling swell.
    When you’ve a word that answers “how?”,
    The time is for an adverb now.

    So in the future if you would,
    Please use adverbs the way you should.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 26, 2013

      Hey Gretchen, maybe take a breath,
      Don’t grammar lesson me to death.
      I know the difference. I preferred
      The rhythm of the other word.
      Sometimes I choose colloquial
      Approaches. I know on the whole
      The grammar isn’t up to par,
      But baby, that’s the way I are.

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      • Steven Ray Orr
        February 26, 2013

        You two became my favorite person. Singular. Enjoy sharing a body.

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      • gretchen grouse
        February 26, 2013

        I thought to write some couplets back
        To thus pursue this vain attack,
        This well intended try to curb
        The sad demise of the adverb,
        But found I had but this to say:

        “Condolences this very day
        If it is true that you abuse
        Your mother tongue the way you choose
        To do because you cannot see
        The transcendence of ‘as easily’.”

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      • HeHughes376
        February 26, 2013

        These poetic posts are just awesomely entertaining! Thanks for making me smile everyone

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    • Sean
      February 26, 2013

      couldn’t have said it more better myself

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  4. Frank N
    February 26, 2013

    Uhm, no. Proposed realignment team-wise may be okay and the home and home games against the Eastern teams is a big win. But the proposed play-off scheme is horrible. More games against the same teams we play all year every year already!? Boring! (Don’t just think short term excitement, but imagine a play-off series against the Kings every year of the next 4 years only to be able to even make it out of the own division… Sigh.) It’s much more fun to meet other teams!!

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      February 26, 2013

      That’s how it always* used to be. Two rounds of Smythe Division playoffs (in theory — our guys were rarely in them), followed by a series against the Norris winner, and the winner of that went up against the Wales champion.

      Yeah, the same teams always played each other (especially Calgary and Edmonton, plus Montreal and Boston), but all those eastern fans who despise variety always seem to like that. I don’t, myself. But the folks the NHL always kowtows to (the Original Six markets, Philadelphia, etc.) would happily play 82 games against the same 3 or 4 teams, it seems.

      * “Always” meaning roughly from the time I was born to when they changed it in 1993.

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      • Frank N
        February 26, 2013

        Yeah, and I think that is merely nostalgia. When there were not that many teams around, you would always play each other, for lack of alternatives. So people reminisce those match ups as great rivalries although they were merely born out of necessity. Now that we have so many different teams, with different kinds of play and different kinds of talent, pitch them against each other, rather than against the same old same old.

        I really wish they would just rank all the teams 1-30 on points of the regular season and then have the 16 best play play-offs where no. 1 goes against 16, 2vs. 15 etc. And yes, that means that West meets East, but that’s just the charm of it! Just imagine a first round match-up between the Canucks and Canadiens!? WOW! Objectionist will talk about the travel distances and all that but so what? It is the same, or potentially the same, for all teams. And the series could be played in different ways, like a 2-3-2 schedule.

        Alas, that is not to happen in this NHL.

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        • J21 (@Jyrki21)
          February 26, 2013

          They used to do that too, of course (in the era before the above-mentioned), but it really is unfair when the schedules are unbalanced (and they always have been — a team would play divisional rivals considerably more than anyone else, although no distinction was made between the intra-conference other division vs. the other conference entirely).

          Last year, for instance, it would have been nice for the Canucks to take on the lowest playoff seeded Senators in the first round instead of, arguably, the best team in the NHL (especially for me, being in Ottawa), but I think we can’t deny that as long as inter-conference play is relatively rare, it’s not really fair to assess the seeds as though everyone was playing in the same pool.

          Also, in general, inter-conference play hurts western teams more than eastern ones. Tom Benjamin (now of Canuckscorner) is a master in the topic of the effect of travel on sports, but it is very significant, and because of the direction of the time difference it is just, in general, tougher to play out west. (i.e. It doesn’t end up being the same for everyone). And having the whole league travel a ton more is also just a recipe for more injuries and a worse quality of play, too. For the record, Tom was an adamant supporter of simply never playing against Eastern teams, AL/NL style, in order to level the playing field somewhat.

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          • Frank N
            February 26, 2013

            But slightly more than half the games is West against East, totalling 48. So that levels the playing filed somewhat.

            And besides, people complaining about level playing field should just shut up. If they want level playing field it’s very easy, every team plays a home-home-home-home game against every team. Although that one might complain that it’s not fair to play the Bruins when they’re hot vs. playing them when they are not on a roll. It’s sports, there is a level of randomness so people should just suck it up.

            Not ranting against you! Just in general! ;-)

            But honestly, playing all teams twice and then an extra 2 games against teams within the own division would be ideal. I think that would come to something like 70 games total for the regular season. That way, players have a higher chance of being healthy come play-offs, games matter more during regular season (akin to this season which is more fun to watch!) and they could start in October and be done by the end of April! (NHL, owners and NHLPA won’t like that for reduced $$$’s! Although NHLPA might like it from player health perspective! Alternatively, one could meet the teams within the own division a total of 5 times.)

            Ah well, one can dream, right?

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  5. JohnScott
    February 26, 2013

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

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  6. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    February 26, 2013

    The Canucks need to pay more attention to its core fan base: those of us on accursed Eastern Time. More specifically, me. Much as the Canucks joined the NHL in the East Division in 1970 (because someone was map-illiterate, had a sense of humor, or both), it is high time the team began playing more games closer to its most important supporters, again, namely, me.

    I propose that if the team cannot be relocated to the Northeast Division (I offer my back yard as a potential “arena” site — it will really capture the glamor of hockey’s early days on natural ice and sub-ideal conditions — plus both Okanagan Spring and Granville Island have made it out here in the last couple of years, giving us the potential to serve better beer than Rogers Arena), then it begin its home games at 4:00 p.m. Pacific, so that the key television demographic — me — does not have to sacrifice his health and well-being.

    I believe Obituary Mambo will also be onside with my plan as a second choice to starting games on Continental European time.

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    • Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
      February 26, 2013

      As a Canucks fan in the East, I heartily support this proposal.

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    • obituary mambo
      March 8, 2013

      Sorry, I just got around to reading this or I would have responded sooner. Your post is awesome and gave me a laugh. With that in mind, I hate to dissent, but the truth is that I prefer the 7pm PST starts. True, I have to wake up at 4am CET for them — far from ideal. However, considering that I start work at about 7:30am, it’s certainly preferable to a 4pm PST start. Splitting my sleep schedule by waking up at 1am and trying to get a couple more hours when the game is finished would be well beyond brutal. In fact, I did just that last night and was ready to crawl back in bed before the 1st period was half-way over. Then again, I have a feeling even those watching from the west coast had to fight the urge to fall asleep. I’m all for accommodation, though. If the Canucks want to throw in the odd afternoon start (9pm for me), I wouldn’t mind seeing a few extra games played at a time more suitable to fans on accursed Eastern Time.

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  7. DanD
    February 26, 2013

    Wait, an efficient freeway through a downtown core? That can’t be right.

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  8. APCanucks7
    February 26, 2013

    I am so annoyed by the talk about a weak division. I always thought that our record against the rest of the West and the East was almost as good as our record within the Northwest and I am right. According to NHL.com, our two President Trophy years break down as such. 2010-2011 we went 54-19-9 overall, against the NW we went 18-4-2, against the rest of the West 25-10-5, and overall excluding the NW we were 36-15-7. 2011-2012 we went 51-22-9, against the NW we were 18-5-1, against the rest of the West 22-11-7, and the league excluding the NW we went 33-17-8. So I think we can relax, the team is damn good. We benefit from a soft NW, but not as much as it is made out to be! We will be fine in whatever division we get.

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    • sam
      February 26, 2013

      People talk about a weak division because our division is rediculously weak. Do you really think Canucks win the President’s last year if we had to play the Hawks, Wings, Blues, Preds every other game?

      Even look at your record breakdowns of NW div vs. rest of Western Conference: 18-4-2 is significantly better than 25-10-5 and 18-5-1 is significatnly better than 22-11-7. The East is weaker than the West so adding in those numbers helps equalize the comparison, but its hard to deny the NW div is the weakest by far in the West right now (only one team in the playoffs right now which is even scarier considering the West is stronger than the East. Essentially, all the bad teams in the conference are in the NW other than CBJ). However, I agree that its cyclical.

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      • APCanucks7
        February 27, 2013

        I wasn’t saying the NW wasn’t weak, I wanted to highlight that the Canucks record was outside of the division was also excellent. To prove my point and follow up on yours. In 2010-2011 their pace against the rest of the West would be about 112 points over 82 games which would have given them the President’s Trophy. In 2011-2012 their record vs. the West would have been about 104 points. They would have been 5 points short of winning. But that includes the swoon after Daniel got hurt. Who knows how they finish if healthy. So to answer the question yes both years would have still been pretty close to a Presidents Trophy.

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        • TeeJay
          February 27, 2013

          What made that happen is the HEART OF A CANUCK, if that HEART tancedence into another form , we may have the STANLEY CUP.

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  9. John
    February 26, 2013

    Haha, until I read the part about the typo on the sign, I thought it was some crazy Minnesota fan wanting to propose some sort of mega-trade.

    “You give us your team Vancouver, and we’ll give you the entire city of Minnesota. Whaddyasay?”

    I’d consider that if I had to watch the Wild all the time.

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    • JDM
      February 26, 2013

      This is exactly how I read it.

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    • John
      February 26, 2013

      Whoops, yeah, the *state* of Minnesota.

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  10. JDM
    February 26, 2013

    … Except that Minnesota is a state, not a city.

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  11. akidd
    February 26, 2013

    it’s definitely something to chew on. and the canucks have had a pretty easy ride recently. winning it all is a pretty elusive result, in case everyone hasn’t already noticed. the easy road just isn’t there. so why not just play regularly against the good teams, sharpen that iron?

    a quick look at that divison and only the yotes stand out as a perennial snoozefest. even the ducks, now with carlyle out east saving some cotu bacon, are a fun matchup. no nashville(yay!!!) no minnie, no blue jackets… it could be a whole lot worse. the canucks could be in that other western division.

    not so sure about the divisional playoffs though. that would be bloodsport for sure.

    but otherwise, ya, maybe it’s time to skeedaddle out of that tier-two nw division and have each game(and the regular season in general) actually mean something again.

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  12. Dane
    February 26, 2013

    Should I google what “In-N-Outs” are at work? Some sort of Canadian slang for prostitutes? To be perfectly honest, that wouldn’t entice me to go down to California. “Come on down guys, our state is literally LITTERED with hookers! Take your pick”.

    I like the idea of LA/San Jose/Anaheim/Phoenix being in our division, but I’m not a big fan of the 4 division format and the resulting playoffs. While I am a ‘nucks fan, I’m also a hockey fan. Last time they proposed this it involved less out of division matches, which is far less enticing to me. Personally I’d prefer them to re align within the current 6 division structure, which should still see the Canucks to the pacific.

    Either way, a ticket to LA from Sydney is a heck of a lot cheaper than to Vancouver.

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    • cathylu
      February 27, 2013

      In ‘n’Out = great hamburgers and fries.

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      • Dane
        February 27, 2013

        Cheers! I actually thought they were a chain of Motels or something. O.o

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  13. Nick
    February 26, 2013

    I was with you right up until the last line about how, compared to Vancouver, Phoenix is so great because it has a super highway ripping through its downtown core.

    Not everyone agrees with that. And a big reason why Vancouver is so highly ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities is precisely because people here stood up and blocked a proposed highway to downtown.

    But I guess folks who drive everywhere envy the US cities with their 12 and 18 lane expressways, and would love to see 1st Ave replaced with something like.

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  14. shoes
    February 26, 2013

    No talk of the SE division which has been so weak for years, with the exception (surprise, surprise) of one team rising above the pack. And in Detroits heyday, they had St Louis, CBJ and Nashville who were worst of the worst and don’t forget Chicago before the 3 years of top picks.

    No question the Canucks have benefited from a weak NW this year so far and last year as well, but by and large the NW teams have all taken themselves into the cellar with monumental losing streaks that we never seemed to be a part of during said losing streak. Teams from all over the West got to feast 4 games a season on our weak NW mates.

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  15. Mt
    February 26, 2013

    On the downside, more Canucks fans stuck in eastern time-zones will lose their jobs due to post game sleep loss. I lament the loss of Detroit, Chicago, et al. If only I could manage a move to California.

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  16. cathylu
    February 27, 2013

    I encourage the Canuck-So Cal road trips – I love going to Staples Center and seeing it filled with Canuck fans.

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  17. ali
    February 27, 2013

    is there a concern that the top seeded team will have to travel across the continent to play the wildcard team in the first round? does that seem like an advantage for having played well all year?

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