New division, same challenge face Sabres under realignment

Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.

When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.

There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.

The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.

The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.

Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.

While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.

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New conference alignment a radical change for NHL

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. Continue reading

New news on NHL realignment stirs the pot

The tangled web of NHL realignment has more solutions than an algebra test. Considering the whole topic is so complicated there is little use of trying to make heads or tails of a potential end to it all.

However, this tweet from Adam Proteau was brought up Tuesday afternoon on TSN 1050 and it really got the wheels turning in my head (ok there is just one wheel).

Any previous permutation of the potential alignment for the 2012-13 season was tackled by Bob McKenzie. I’m personally a fan of his final scenario (Plan F), in which Winnipeg would start a counter-clockwise rotation of teams in each division. While it involves moving the most teams, it also creates the best regional and time zone matchups.

Let’s put Winnipeg in the Northwest Division, but keep Minnesota, Colorado,
Calgary and Edmonton there, and move Vancouver to the Pacific Division.
Vancouver in the Pacific makes a lot of sense because, well, every team in the
Pacific would actually be on Pacific time. That would allow Dallas to move from
the Pacific to the Central.

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Thrash on the move? Atlanta in talks with True North

The eyes of Winnipeg are affixed firmly on the Atlanta Thrashers. After the City of Glendale dropped an additional $25 million to keep the Coyotes for another season, the Winnipeg spotlight turned east.

The Coyotes are safe for another season and the Thrashers are drowning in debt. So much so that their owner is looking high and low for prospective buyers. However, most sources have identified True North Sports and Entertainment as the group that will step in to purchase the Thrashers. Now it appears as if it is only a matter of time before hockey returns to Winnipeg.

This entire situation is tough to digest. On one hand I thought the poetic justice would have been perfect had Phoenix gone back north. Not to mention the fact that the Coyotes are struggling so much in the desert. I also have  a similar opinion on the Thrashers. They have no fan support and are just draining money from the league, it is time for a change. However, you hate to see any of the 30 teams struggling, no matter how silly their location is.

So, as Winnipeg prepares to embrace the return of the NHL I feel at ease with the situation. It is a city that should never have lost their team to begin with and well suited to support an NHL franchise (at least from a fan perspective). The lack of corporate sponsors is an issue, but I hope it is something that can be overcome. If hockey is to return to Manitoba, I am ready to applaud the move. The next question is, who fills the vacant spot in the east? Continue reading