NHL Re-Alignment Winner and Losers
On Monday the NHL board of governors decided that the NHL needed a significant change in the alignment of the league’s conferences and divisions. They needed to do some kind of change when Atlanta moved to Winnipeg as having Winnipeg play in the South-East division makes about as much sense as another Kardashian wedding. Today we have six divisions and four conferences. Next year it appears (barring NHLPA approval) we will have a throwback to the 90’s era and have four conferences/divisions with seven or eight teams in each conference. Each team will now play every team once at home and again on the road every year. They will also play each team in their own conference five or six times each year (rotating each year). The first round of the playoffs will consist of inter-division play and then after that the NHL has yet to decide. Here are the new conferences as of today (This could change if the Phoenix ownership situation ever gets sorted out).
Conference A: Toronto, Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida, and Tampa Bay.
Conference B: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Carolina, and New Jersey.
Conference C: Detroit, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago.
Conference D: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Colorado.
The biggest winner of the re-alignment is the TV stations, especially local ones. The new alignment has most teams playing a majority of their games in the same time zone or within an hour so that more locals don’t have to be up late to watch their favorite team play. The trading deadline should also be more interesting with re-alignment because you’re battling with only six or seven teams for playoff spots. This potentially leaves 22 or 23 potential trade partners instead of 15 in the current system. We do see trades happen inside conferences today but it’s less likely if the teams are close in the playoff race. I find the trading deadline fascinating and it’s my Christmas so this could make it more interesting as the last couple years haven’t had a lot of action (No offense to James Duthie who is extremely entertaining, it’s the lack of blockbuster deals). Another positive of re-alignment is now every team plays in every city once a year so western teams will see Crosby and Ovechkin once a year and eastern teams will see Datsyuk and the Sedin’s once a year.
Not all is positive with re-alignment as these new conferences are supposed to build rivalries (they do) it will also kill some. The past couple years Vancouver vs. Chicago has become as excellent rivalry but next year they will play only twice (and are unlikely to meet in playoffs as well) which will mean Vancouver vs. Chicago will be no different than Vancouver vs. Florida as there will be no playoff implication minus the two points for themselves. Re-alignment will kill the excitement in March and April where you have so many teams competing for the final few playoff spots. Instead you may see two teams in each conference competing for the final playoff spots. I also believe re-alignment with hurt the parody of NHL which is what the governors fought so hard for in the last CBA with the salary cap. Right now I look at the proposed conferences and I see some conferences that are far stronger than the others. We are going to see very strong teams finish 5th in a division and miss the playoffs and another weaker conference team makes the playoffs and finish 10 points back of that same 5th place team.
I am also concerned with the amount of games with strong playoffs implications. With the proposed schedule slightly less than half of your games are against teams you are fighting for a playoff spot with. Right now that number is a shade below 70%. I am scared we will see a rise in the overtime games because the single point given away means nothing to a team that isn’t competing against them for a playoff spot. This may make teams complacent in the last five minutes of a game to guarantee the single point. Don’t get me wrong the two points for a win is huge in any game but giving away the single point to a competing team could be the difference between you or them in the playoffs. Right now if a western conference team gives a single point to an eastern conference team in an overtime win it doesn’t hurt them at all. To be honest as a fan of a western conference team a loss to an eastern conference team doesn’t nearly bother me as much as a western conference team even if we aren’t in the same division.
I would have preferred a simple shift of Winnipeg to the Central division and Columbus to the South-East division. I know Detroit supposedly has first dibs on a move to the east but I can’t move them away from their rivalry with Chicago and even St. Louis. Columbus hasn’t been to the playoffs to create a strongly rivalry. Columbus isn’t the perfect fit for the South-East division geographically but it’s better than Detroit. This could all change again if the Phoenix Coyotes situation is ever figured out and the Coyotes are forced to move. I don’t think the NHL can please everyone when they change things. Sure you will see inter-division rivalries increase (who doesn’t love a more intense Edmonton vs. Calgary, Toronto vs. Montreal game) but I can see the other half of the games becoming stagnant and I don’t want that. Even the WHL moved away from this system that the NHL is planning on implementing because it didn’t work.