This being a day for the renewal of the Champions League, it’s time for an Alternate Universe post, as in: what if the NHL and the NBA did the same thing as European soccer does, with relegation and promotion determining the divisions, and the long season spiced up by incorporating a chase for Champions League-style positions during the season, their best taking on the best from around the world?
The Champions League part is easy. The NHL is forever on a quixotic quest for TV money in America, but bringing the hockey hotbeds of Europe into the mix for games that matter make more sense (it might even be lucrative and attract viewers). In the NBA, the Olympics and world championships (not to mention Maccabi Tel Aviv beating the Raptors in preseason, remember that one?) have shown that the rest of the world is more than competitive. Both leagues have become true melting pots, the overwhelming Canadian-ness of the NHL and Americanized NBA opened up to welcome all the corners of the world where their games are played. So here's what we do in our Alternate Universe: the championship finalists from the NHL and NBA earn Champions League spots for the following season, along with the next two best records.
In the real world, pro sports owners would never stop their game of musical chairs in January so that a few teams can go over to Europe to play the front half of a home and home against the best club sides from across the pond. As for promotion and relegation, as someone weaned on the North American way, that's not where I’d want to go.
But this is an Alternate Universe we’re in, so the willing suspension of disbelief is turned on. I've used the most recent seasons to determined this year's divisional setup (in other words, the NHL’s 2003-04 grid, the most recent given last year’s lockout. Of course, if this were a true three-division setup, teams would play exclusively in their own division, and the figures are merely taken from the current NHL standings, which include the shootout results -- so it’s not perfect, but really, what is?)
I’ll be back with the NBA version tomorrow.
The Alternate Universe NHL
(C-Champions League participants; r-relegated; p-promoted; pp-in promotion playoff)
GP-W-L-OT/SO L-(Goal differential)-Pts
C-San Jose 70-36-24-10-(+18)-82
C-Tampa Bay 72-38-29-5-(-2)-81
New Jersey 71-35-27-9-(-7)-79
Los Angeles 72-38-29-5-(-9)-81
r-NY Islanders 70-33-32-5-(-30)-71
r-St. Louis 70-20-38-12-(-76)-52
pp-NY Rangers 72-40-20-12-(+48)-92