As the regular season winds down we again see that the biggest issue with the competitive balance in the NHL is not East versus West, but the rivalries within the decisions. This season more than any in recent memory the difference within the divisions when coupled with the division-heavy scheduling is making some teams appear to be more in the playoff hunt than they should be. Maybe I am just becoming more "old school" in my thinking but here is my suggestion for balancing the schedule and getting the 16 best teams to play for the cup each spring.
Since there are 30 teams (15 per conference) schedule it that way. As a Flyers fan I am literally sick of watching 8 games versus the division teams each year. That is 32/82 or 39% of the schedule. This overload has taken the "special feeling out of these rivalry games. Lets make two conferences that play the following schedule so that everything is balanced. Within your conference play each team 4 times (2 home, 2 away) for a total of 56 conference games. Play each team in the other conference 2 times (1 home, 1 away) for a total of 30 games. This would expand the current schedule to 86 games.
Now my radical suggestion is to do away with the divisions. My reason is simple, every year at least 1, usually 2 teams are seeded at #3 that are weaker teams and this creates an unbalanced bracket for the playoffs. Make just an EAST and WEST division and rank the teams 1 through 8. As of the writing, it is still mathematically possible for Carolina to win the Southeast division and be the #3 seed in the East with the lowest amount of points in the East. Not only is granting home ice to that team unfair since their division of 39% of their games played against the weakest competition in the league, but it is still possible that Buffalo, Philly or Boston be bumped from the playoffs with more points from a stronger division (again playing 39% of their games against much higher quality opponents).
Finally rivalries are created in the playoffs, not in the regular season. This concept of all these games just makes for unbalanced competition and a bad setup for the biggest team prize in sports.