Cerberus FTW: a Three-Conference NHL

Everybody's got their own theory on how the NHL's structure should be reworked, re-jigged or realigned if (when) Winnipeg replaces Atlanta. Here's mine, in three parts:

1. What if the NHL were divided into three conferences instead of two?

2. How could the regular season schedule be drawn up if that were the case?

3. How could the playoffs be structured if that were the case?

Skim-read on and post your own ideas in the comments...

Everyone's talking about who should come east if Atlanta goes west. Detroit? Nashville? Why not avoid the whole pesky problem? (At least in 2012-13, I'll admit. Let's at least approach reality.)

Firstly, a rough idea of how a three-conference league could be structured. Obviously you want to keep teams in similar time zones for ease of TV viewing, and continue rivalries wherever possible. I more or less ignored these considerations and put the ten westernmost teams in the West and ten easternmost in the East, but it might have worked out alright anyway:

Western Conference

Central Conference

Eastern Conference

















St Louis

New York Rangers




Los Angeles



San Jose

Tampa Bay

New York Islanders



New Jersey

Six divisions, just split differently. It's worth noting that if a team shifted into Quebec City, Toronto would be on the cusp of moving into the Central Conference on strictly geographical terms. Would gaining games against Detroit and Chicago be worth losing a few against Ottawa and Montreal... but with the possibility of one day facing the Habs for the Cup?

Secondly, and less importantly: how should the regular season work under that scenario?

If I were Gary Bettman (and thankfully I'm not) I'd start with a home-and-home between every team in the league and work it from there. Take those 58 games, add an additional home-and-home against each team in the same conference (18 games) and another game against each divisional opponent (4 games) and you've got yourself an 80-game season. Or do you have a better idea?

Thirdly, and more confusingly... How could the playoffs work?

I scratched my head over this one for a while. You want to end up with a final four somehow, semi-finals and a final; and you only want a couple of rounds before that, or things would drag out for months. But I like the league's conference- and division-based playoff seeding, at least enough not to mess with it for now. So...

I'd say: take the top four teams in each conference and have them play two rounds, to determine three conference champions. Extrapolating from this season's results, you might see matchups like Pittsburgh-Nashville and Detroit-Tampa in the first round, plus a few more orthodox ones. But you've got your powerhouses in each conference, and at least three of the current conference finalists would still be likely to qualify for the final four (Vancouver and San Jose would have had to face off earlier).

But that's only three teams, you might say. Here's where I really went nuts. Either take the losing conference finalist with the best regular-season record, to encourage teams to fight for every last point, OR (my preference) bring in the defending Stanley Cup champion, if they have not already qualified. I'm old-fashioned, and I like giving a team every chance to defend a title. Maybe you would call Chicago unworthy of returning to face the likes of Tampa Bay, San Jose and Boston. Feel free to do so below. :) is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of

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