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 Proverbs, As 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.Tags: The Northwest Division is terrible