Realignment And It Feels So Good
On December 5, 2011 the NHL elected to become the first major North American sports league to radically realign into 4 conferences. The new format was overwhelmingly enacted in a vote of all 30 National Hockey League General Managers, by a vote of 26-4, after a debate which took barely an hour. Instead of 2 conferences each consisting of 3 divisions, there will now be two 7 team conferences and two 8 team conferences, which were created mainly in regards to time zones but also in deference to existing rivalries.
The new conferences:
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
The top 4 teams from each conference will make the playoffs, playing a the first round of the playoffs in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 format. The two winners will each then play for the conference championship.
It has yet to be determined what will occur in the third playoff round. At the next NHL GM meetings it will be determined whether they will stick closer to the current format where the champions of the two western conferences (A and B) will play for the right to face the winner of the two eastern conferences (C and D) for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. Another intruiging possibility is that the four conference champions will be re-seeded according to regular season record and play again in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 format, with the two winners playing for the Cup. This would be interesting, because it could create new possibilities in the Stanley Cup, like a Rangers vs. Bruins or Blackhawks vs. Canucks final.
Though the new scheduling formula will create a bit more travel for the players, it seems much more aimed at pleasing the fans. Each team will play one home and one road game against teams from the other three conferences, enabling fans all over the country to see stars like Sidney Crosby and the Sedin twins at least once a year in their home building. It will also increase rivalries, as each team will play every team in their own conference 5 or 6 times per year. Not to mention the fact that each team will play the first two rounds of the playoffs within their own divisions. You think Detroit vs. Chicago is a hot rivalry? Montreal vs. Boston? Pittsburgh vs. Washington? The new format increases the odds of these playoff matches occuring on an annual basis.
We at www.blogdudes.com heartily endorse this plan, and the positives seem to far outweigh the negatives.
Columbus Blue Jackets: This team desperately wanted to get into the eastern time zone. Years of terrible teams have negatively affected interest in this team, and playing most of their road games in a later time zone than their own hurts TV ratings.
Carolina Hurricanes: They lose semi-local rivals Tampa and Florida, their travel is increased inordinately by being the sole geographic anomaly in the division, and with a poor team right now they look to be long-time doormats, moving from easily the weakest division in the NHL in the Southeast to arguably the strongest conference in the NHL.
Winnipeg Jets: Although they would prefer to have more games against Canadian rivals, especially the nearest ones in Edmonton and Calgary, they are thrilled to be getting out of the Southeast Division and playing more nearby teams in a similar time zone. There also remains the lingering possibility that Phoenix will move (Quebec? The Toronto area? Seattle?) after this season — if the Coyotes go east, expect them to flip-flop divisions with the Jets.
Chicago Blackhawks: For not losing long-time rival Detroit to another conference.
Minnesota Wild: Minnesota is absolutely thrilled to add games against midwestern rivals in Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Columbus. They are certain this will lead to some excellent future rivalries which were difficult to geographically justify in their old Northwest Diivision with Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado.
Dallas Stars: This team was miserable in the Pacific Division, playing most of their road games two hours too late against west coast teams. Their flagging television ratings should receive a big boost.
Tampa Bay and Florida: Few teams’ fans travel as well as Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Ottawa’s and Buffalo’s. Warm weather Florida will make a great travel destination for hockey-vacationing, and the Florida teams should get an attendence bump as a result. Their travel will increase, but the gate receipts should make them feel better about it.
Washington Capitals: The huge rivalry between Crosby’s Penguins and Ovechkin’s Capitals is now an intra-divisional one. They are also thrilled to rekindle rivalries (and the ratings and attendence which will immediately follow) from their old Patrick Division mates, the Rangers and the Flyers.
It seems glaring that the happy teams greatly outweigh the unhappy ones. Also, many of the happy teams are major heavy-weights in today’s NHL, while the only teams to begrudge these changes are NHL weaklings by comparison. This should explain why the new format passed so quickly, and with so little opposition. Yet there are even more winners than just the teams:
The Television Networks: More games between rivals, more games in local time zones.
The Fans: Now able to see every team and every star in the NHL at least twice a year, once in their team’s arena and once on local television. More games between rivals equals more exciting hockey.
The Players: Hey, they’re people, too. Although the travel will be a bit more arduous, players also like to travel to every NHL city, and now they’ll annually get that opportunity. They also get to see every NHL star and team every year, and if you think NHL players don’t get up for a game versus a Sidney Crosby or a Detroit Red Wings juggernaut, clearly you’ve never spoken with any.
The NHL showed not only vision today in announcing their revolutionary new format, but also guts. Certainly, as the saying goes, glory will follow.