Yesterday at the Board of Governors meeting in San Jose, the NHL GM’s all voted and approved a plan for realignment. With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg this year, realignment was necessary. I’m still not quite sure what to think of the new layout. There are things I like and things I’m not sure if I like yet. The new plan has 4 conferences, 2 with 8 teams and 2 with 7 teams. But first let’s take a look at the conferences themselves.
(conference names are not named yet – these are the initial names from the NHL)
Conference C – This is a 7 team conference which keeps the entire Northeast Division in tact with Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Buffalo. This is great for these teams as they all have great rivalries and travel is minimal. The new additions are Florida and Tampa Bay. Obviously distance is an issue, but I like this. Most of the teams in the NHL are in northern cities so no matter what, the southern teams would have had to make a compromise anyway. This way, Florida and Tampa Bay stay together and keep their rivalry. And travel to the northern cities 3 times a year isn’t bad at all since they were facing those teams twice a year on the road anyway. This also keeps all 7 teams in the Eastern time zone which is another plus.
Conference D – This would be the old Atlantic Division. It was a given that the Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Flyers would always be together. But there was talk about the Penguins leaving this group. Luckily, they have stayed, maintaining some of the best rivalries in the game right now. For fans of the other teams, having the Penguins in the conference might suck because they will probably be favorites to win the conference every year, but from a pure hockey fan’s perspective this is great. Joining these teams are the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes. Makes perfect sense as the Capitals re-join its old Patrick Division mates and geographically has short trips to all of these cities. Carolina keeps that Washington rivalry and has relatively short flights to all of these cities as well. We also get to see the Capitals-Penguins rivalry enhanced to the next level since they will now be playing 6 times a year. It also pretty much ensures the Islanders will never make the playoffs ever again. More on the playoff set-up to come…
Conference B – This is a blend of several teams from different divisions. But it probably makes sense for all parties involved. All of the Central teams stay together, keeping the Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis rivalries going along with Nashville and Columbus. We also have Minnesota, Winnipeg and Dallas joining the group. Winnipeg is the only Canadian team here, but they should still be happy considering the close proximity to Minnesota and Detroit. Minnesota should be very happy and should build a natural rivalry with teams like Detroit and Chicago. And Dallas, although being the only southern team, is ecstatic to avoid playing half their games in the Pacific time zone.
Conference A – This 8 team conference is a blend of the old Pacific and Northwest with San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix from the Pacific and Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Vancouver from the Northwest. All teams are either in the Pacific or Mountain time zones which helps on travel and we also get to keep many old rivalries.
The details of the shake-up:
So how are things going to play out now? We saw what the 4 conferences look like, so let’s take a look into the rest of the details. First, lets talk about travel. I like what they did to help these teams with travel and keeping them in their time zones as much as possible. This is definitely a positive. Especially come playoff time which we will get to in just a few.
Secondly, the schedule. I like the way the new schedule is supposed to play out. All of the teams in the 7 team conferences will play their conference-mates 6 times a year and play all other teams in the league twice a year. So each team will play each other at least once per year in their home building which is great for western teams that didn’t always get to see guys like Crosby and Ovechkin come into their building. Teams in the 8 team conferences will also play all non-conference teams twice a year, and will play their conference teams either 5 or 6 times per year. This keeps those conference rivalries fresh, but also allows fans to watch their teams play everyone else which isn’t always the case in the current set up.
The playoffs are where things get tricky. How it will work is the top 4 teams in each conference will make the playoffs. They will be seeded 1-4 and will begin the playoffs playing teams in your conference. After the first two rounds, their will essentially be 4 conference winners. From there on out, things are a little unclear.
First off, I feel a little bad for the teams in the 8 team conferences. Obviously with one extra team, it will be slightly tougher to make the playoffs then the 7 team conferences. I guess it’s not a huge deal though. We see this in baseball with the National League having two more teams and the NL Central with 6 teams while the AL West has only 4. So I can live with this.
As far as the playoff formatting goes, I think I kind of like it. It will be like the old days where no matter what we will see playoff matchups in the first two rounds between conference (division) rivals. So we will be seeing a ton of Penguins-Capitals, Sabres-Bruins, Flames-Oilers, Red Wings-Blackhawks, etc. That part I like. However, as a fan of a team like the Islanders this does pretty much suck. Their conference is STACKED. The Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Capitals spend a lot of money and are consistently in the playoffs. Where does this leave the Islanders? They could finish 5th in their conference and have better records then teams that finished 3rd or 4th in another conference and still not make the playoffs. That part of it is tough to deal with, but I guess it will all play itself out.
This also helps teams like Detroit out who are in the Western Conference but in the Eastern Time Zone. Last year they had playoff series’ against Phoenix and San Jose which is not only difficult for travel, but tough on fans who have to stay up until 1am to watch the end of some games. A scenario like San Jose vs Detroit in the playoffs can still happen, but not until the third round.
The last part of the playoff setup I am confused about is how things will be seeded after the first two rounds. I don’t know if there is an Eastern or Western split, so can we have a Final 4 of Penguins vs Canucks and Bruins vs Red Wings with the Penguins and Bruins winning and meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals? I guess that seems a little weird but in reality what is the big deal right? I’m not sure about this yet but it will be interesting to see what they do.
Now all of this is not set in stone just yet. They will continue to make adjustments and we as fans will learn more. Right now this is just an initial analysis and break-down of what we do know. One key factor will obviously be the fate of the Phoenix Coyotes. The NHL did a great job in leaving the door open for a possible Phoenix move. They are not committed to two 15-team conferences like they currently have in place where a cross-country move would throw everything out of whack. Instead if the Coyotes where to move at the end of this year to an eastern city (like, oh I don’t know, maybe Quebec?) they could easily slide them to one of the Eastern 7 team conferences and just make that an 8 team conference. In reality, it would probably work out the best that way too. How great would it be seeing the Quebec Nordiques back in a division with the Canadiens, Bruins, Sabres, etc? And that would also mean we would have 15 teams in the two Eastern conferences and 15 in the two Western conferences. We will see what happens, but they left themselves with a perfect format if the Yotes are on the move.
Also, what about the names of these conferences? I’m sure they might just use a geographic theme but there are a lot of talks about naming them after players like Orr, Howe, Gretzky, Lemieux, etc. I would not be opposed to that at all, but I would certainly favor the old names of Patrick, Norris, Smythe and Adams.
What does everyone else think of the new layout? Like it or would you rather see something else?