It was expected that this week’s board of governors meetings would spawn the new conference alignment for the NHL. It happened a whole lot sooner than expected. It was announced tonight that the NHL will move to a four-division (or mega-conference) format beginning next season.
The divisions will look like so (names via @RooseBill):
Pacific: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver.
Central: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis,Winnipeg.
Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
Atlantic: Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
There is a lot of good and a lot of bad in this version. Unfortunately the bad just might outweigh the good.
The realignment was necessary after the Atlanta Spirit Group proved they are horrible at their jobs and forced the Thrashers to move to Winnipeg. However, the easy way out of shifting one team back East would have been horrible. A drastic move was necessary. The question is, was this the best move the NHL could have made?
There are a few obvious winners based on the new divisions. The Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Predators get their wish of more games in their time zone. The Panthers and Lightning get to play in a division with teams whose fans travel well, or already reside in their city. The snowbird ticket count down there will be massive. The Atlantic division is a dream for NBC as almost the entire division – save for the Devils, Isles and Canes – will create perfect made-for-TV games.
There are also a few losers. The Hurricanes get jobbed as they lose their two close geographic rivals, they also get stuck with the Rangers, Pens, Flyers and Caps for divisional play. The Pacific Division is of the eight-team variety for now (depending on Phoenix) and that will hurt them in general. It is a deep division with some competitive teams. Making the playoffs in either division out West will be a bear. Any team from the current Northeast gets a tough shake. They lose Philly, Pittsburgh and the NY-area teams while gaining Tampa and Florida. The playoff race will be fairly clean but the TV and ticket draw will be lame. They also luck out in regards to not getting Detroit in division play.
The most glaring issue here revolves around the playoffs. The division format for playoffs is phenomenal. Particularly in the NHL where two games in a row against the same team is enough to make most players’ blood boil. Two rounds of divisional play after a heavy division schedule in the regular season will be beautiful. However, only caring about a handful of teams rather than the entire conference is a total buzzkill. The opportunity for an “all East” or “all West” is the worst idea ever and reeks of NBC’s grubby fingers.
The other major issue here is the regular season schedule. This is where the Northeast (and Sabres fans in particular) really get boned. The Sabres will see the Senators, Leafs, Canadiens, Bruins, Panthers and Lightning for well over half the season. A few years ago when the schedule had eight meetings between division foes it was a complete nightmare. This has the same ingredients.
In addition, Sabres fans will get to see every team from the West at home in addition to on TV. That is a bonus, especially considering some of these teams are in town once every three years. However, you only get to the Pens, Flyers, Rangers and Caps twice. That is also the worst ever.
This plan has the potential to be a complete tire fire. The division schedule is going to drive people crazy simply because no one wants to see the Islanders 400 times during the season, the same goes for the Blue Jackets. The playoffs also may be completely ruined by this format. The divisional playoffs could be a hit, but it won’t beat divvying up the top eight and letting them have at it.
The true effect of this decision won’t kick in until next December when the people of Detroit have seen the Jets four times and have three more games to go. Same goes for Buffalo having to watch games in an empty BankAtlantic Center. Keep your fingers crossed that this goes well, it would be a shame if it blew up in everyone’s face.