Friday, March 15, 2013

My Take On NHL's Realignment

Detroit takes its place in the Eastern Confernce
alongside four other Original Six members
The NHL has ... finally ... approved the realignment plan they've been talking about for over a year.  The plan harkens back to the old days of just four divisions instead of six and forces three teams to switch conferences.

Here is the final set-up.  The division names are finalized, so here is the projected names in parenthesis:

DIVISION A (Pacific):  Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

DIVISION B (Mid-west):  Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St Louis, Winnipeg

DIVISION C (Northeast):  Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto

DIVISION D (Atlantic):  Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

Three teams switched conferences.  Winnipeg moves to the Western Conference, while Detroit and Columbus move to the East.  The East has 16 teams; the West has 14.  The top three teams in each division makes the playoffs, with two "wildcard" teams in each conference finishing the postseason lineup. 

Really, this goes back to the old days of the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe Divisions ... sorta.  The "Atlantic" is essentially the old Patrick Division plus Carolina and Columbus.  The "Northeast" (poor name by me, I know) is the Adams Division, minus the Hartford Whalers (now Carolina) and adding Ottawa, Detroit and the two Florida teams.  The Pacific is the old Smythe, with some movement, and the Mid-west is the Norris.

But who gains and loses by this new format?

WINNER - DALLAS STARS:  Since the six-division format went into effect at the turn of the century, the Stars have been the big losers.  They were a Central Time Zone team playing in a the Pacific Division.  Remember, the NHL has a bit of a weighted scheduling format where you play divisional foes more than anyone else so this was a sticking point.  I mean, many road games that Dallas were playing started at 9:30pm local time.  Now they play in a division where five other teams are also in the Central Time Zone and one in the Mountain Time Zone.

LOSER - FLORIDA TEAMS:  Not huge losers, but with everyone else loving the less travel time, Florida and Tampa Bay actually increase theirs.  They both are in the (yes, horribly named by me) Northeast Division and will have to play Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Detroit instead of enjoying their Southeast Division with Carolina, Atlanta and Washington. 

WINNER - COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS:  The big news was the Red Wings moving to the Eastern Conference, but Columbus is the huge winner.  Columbus, like Detroit, was a Eastern Time Zone team playing in the West.  Now they get to play in the East with other teams in the same time zone.  Also, Detroit goes with them ... albeit in a different division ... meaning that that will continue to be a big draw during the season. 

WINNER - WINNIPEG JETS:  Not as blantant as Dallas in the Pacific Division, but the Jets have been completely out of place since the league came back to the city a couple of years ago.  Now they get to go back and play in their normal environment.

LOSER - EASTERN CONFERENCE:  Really, there was no geographic disadvantage to any of the Eastern Conference teams (other than Winnipeg).  Now not only do they expand their divisional footprints, the conference also gains the powerful Detroit Red Wings in their path.  Plus, since they have two more teams than the Western Conference, 10 teams will fight for those two wildcard spots as opposed to just 8 fighting for the final two in the West. 


LOSER - CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:  Well, there is one team sad to see Detroit go.  Chicago will be the lone member of the Original Six in the Western Conference.  They lose their rivalry with the Red Wings and gain nothing more than the Jets.  The only blessing for the Blackhawks is now they are the only high-profile franchise in the Western Conference ... but that won't help them at the United Center.

WINNER - NON NHL WESTERN CITIES:  With two less teams in the Western Conference, people are thinking that the NHL may look at expansion.  Maybe, maybe not.  However, if you are in a western city that wants an NHL franchise, it looks better for you now.  There's no way after all this time would they move the Red Wings back west ... and probably not the Blue Jackets (unless they relocate).  So if you are Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or Saskatoon you may have a little more hope in your heart.  Of course, most of the expansion talk has been about Quebec City, Hamilton or even a second Toronto franchise so nothing is guaranteed. 

LOSERS - FORMER SOUTHEAST CONFERNCE TEAMS:  I've already talked about the Panthers and Lightning, but the Hurricanes, Capitals and Jets will struggle to get into the postseason.  See, the Southeast Division has typically been among the worst in the NHL for years.  But the division champion not only got into the playoffs, but also got a No. 3 seed (at least) and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  Now they'll have a tougher time getting in and an even tougher time getting that coveted home ice.

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