A cruel wind blew through my inbox on Friday.
The release of the NHL's regular-season schedule is always a big moment. The details of the 2013-14 games were great, of course -- it's going to be an exciting season, what with the full schedule, all teams playing home-and-homers, the outdoor games, the Olympic break, realignment and the new division names ... And that's where I was gobsmacked.
The Metropolitan Division?
It's bad enough we still have the Pacific, Central and Atlantic divisions, the latter of which, for example, has a mere two of eight teams actually touching the Atlantic Ocean (and Florida counts only because it's an entire state).
Now we have to deal with a Metropolitan Division that includes Carolina, which, last I checked, was more of a regional concept than a metropolis. Also in the Metropolitan Division is New Jersey, which has its metropolitan components, sure, but some folks living in the appropriately named "Garden State" might take issue with that.
"A number of alternatives were considered for 'Metropolitan,' but due to the make-up of our divisions, none were perfect," deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote ESPN.com in an email Friday. "So that was, obviously, the toughest one to nail down. But, ultimately, you have to come to a resting place."
My point here is not strictly to dump on the bad division names; that's an easy target at this point. Rather, why weren't the divisions named after legendary players? We floated that suggestion on ESPN.com, to a largely warm reception. Coming out of the previous CBA, the league and the PA agreed that more needed to be done to market the players. And what better way than to choose from a list of great names for your divisions: Howe, Beliveau, Sawchuk, Hull, Orr, Gretzky, Roy, Lemieux ...
So, why wasn't the idea of using legends' names considered?
"It was considered, but dismissed rather quickly," Daly wrote. "I don't think there was any strong feeling that we needed to move away from geographic descriptors and orientations, which makes it easier for the fans to follow. Also, while it's the nature of any exclusive list, I'm not sure assigning division names to four all-time great players is fair to the all-time great players who would necessarily be excluded in that process."
Fair point. Do you go heavy with the older guys, with the chance of alienating the younger or newer generation of fans, or do you go heavy with the newer names, thereby risking ticking off the older generation and/or fans who appreciate the game's history? Does a mix of both come off as compromised or forced (is Roy better than Sawchuk)? Which four players would be considered the best? And how do you objectively make a decision about including players when so many of them still have connections to the game?
But surely something would have been better than dumping "Northeast" in favor of "Metropolitan."
The NHL is challenged in the North American sports stratosphere by a few things, but history and tradition is not one of them. Take the league's collection of trophies: As much as other sports try, you can't manufacture that kind of bling. I was a big fan of the old division names -- Smythe, Norris, Adams, Patrick. Important and influential names to the game, all, as with the trophies. Going full-out bland with the regionalizations for the 1993-94 season was a crime that could have been undone with a respectful acknowledgment of the game's history.
But, truly, does it mean all that much? Do you really care what the divisions are called? Would you respond more passionately at a game if the Pittsburgh Penguins were introduced as "Metropolitan Division opponents" or as "Lemieux Division opponents"? Give me your responses in the comments field below.
Bottom line, it was a missed opportunity. Simple as that. Get ready for the "Metro" references, coming to an arena near you.