The National Hockey League has a chance in the next few months to take something relatively trivial and turn it into a total thing -- and if that doesn't get hockey fans going as June becomes July, what will?
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Thus, what better time for (cue trumpets here) realignment talk? With Winnipeg in the Southeast Division for 2012, untenable even by NHL standards, and a lockout still a year off, there will be plenty of time to come up with plans both keen and keenly stupid.
Most plans put forward will be done so by teams with a direct benefit to themselves. Detroit, Columbus and Nashville all will present proposals that put their teams in the East, which has created talk of a 16-team and a 14-team conference -- exactly the thing that is giving Bud Selig hives.
Others want to return to the cool old Norris/Smythe/Adams/Patrick/Wales/Campbell names, presumably as a statement against something really moronic like "Leaders" and "Legends." You'd need some updating for names like "Bettman," "Balsillie," "Wang" and "Whoever Owns The Coyotes This Week," but you get the idea.
But here's another one, which has all the combined benefits of (a) being unfeasible, (b) scaring the hell out of the owners, (c) confusing the fan bases and (d) bring the very best day in sports from over the pond to here in our own back yards.
Here's the idea, and don't send us any angry emails, comments, tweets or notes tied to bricks. We don't read 'em, and we know it can never happen. But damn it, it should, and that's why we present it now.
You take the 30 teams and play a year under any configuration you like -- hell, 30 one-team divisions if you want, so you can also name them after players, referees, owners not currently indicted, kinds of cheese, we don't care.
The top 20 then play the subsequent year in the top league (say, the Bieksa Division, because we like saying Kevin Bieksa when we're half in the bag), and the bottom 10 in a lower league (say, the Gragnani Division, because we like saying Marc-Andre Gragnani when we're even more drunk than that). And from that point on, the bottom two or three or four in the Bieksa get relegated, and top two or three or four in the Gragnani get promoted.
Is this feasible? Of course not. Nobody would lay out too much money to buy a bottom-dweller in the Gragnani division. Hell, it takes threats of pistol-whipping to get rich guys to buy good franchises these days.
But it would be the coolest thing ever because it would take both the top and the bottom of the standings and make them hugely important and nerve-wracking, exactly the kind of thing that makes matches in Wolverhampton and Blackpool and Wigan as important at season's end as Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
Every game would absolutely matter, absolutely, and isn't the greatest insult to hockey, basketball, baseball and football all the regular-season games that don't matter and can be dismissed as filler, gristle, waste and nonsense?
Or put it another way, if you have ever seen the tortures of the damned on a Relegation Sunday (the last day of the season) in England, or France, or Spain, or anywhere? River Plate, one of the most storied teams in Argentina and, for that matter, the world, just got relegated Saturday and the town rioted.
We were going to say it Vancouver'd, but we decided to be charitable. You can thank us later.
Relegation and promotion matter. Reward and punishment are the finest spurs for effort there are, otherwise you end up with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Golden State Warriors and Cincinnati Bengals. Relegation and promotion are the finest ideas ever.
And most certainly will not be proposed when the owners gather in Mar Del Lago or St. Barts or Carmel or Manhattan Beach or Hilton Head Island. Why they never gather for meetings in Yellowknife or Kuujjuaq or Resolute should also be on the agenda, but that has as much chance of passing
as the relegation/promotion idea.
But as we're fond of saying, we're right and they're wrong, and the rest is just packaging. Maybe if we named one of the divisions after Don Cherry, we could get a groundswell of ... oh, a fellow can hope. A fellow can always hope.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com