As you've probably heard, the NHL's Board of Governors has approved a realignment plan that, pending approval from the NHLPA, should be in place for the 2012-13 season. The current format of two three-division conferences will be replaced by a four conference format.
The catalyst for this change was the Atlanta Thrashers franchise moving to Winnipeg. It just didn't make sense for a team located in Manitoba to be a member of the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division going forward. Other teams had some gripes with the current format as well, most notably the Red Wings. The Wings are currently a Western Conference team despite being located in the Eastern time zone. The result is a whole lot of games being played two to three time zones away, which means many 10 PM starts that tend to reduce the number of your fans who can watch the games in their entirety.
So, going forward the league will have four (yet to be named) conferences. The teams will be grouped into these four conferences as follows:
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
Along with the realignment comes some obvious scheduling changes. In the regular season, every team will play every other team twice (once at home and once on the road) regardless of conference. The remaining games will be inter-conference match-ups. In Conferences "C" and "D", which contain seven teams each, each team would play the other teams in the conference six times total (three home, three away). In Conferences "A" and "B", which contain eight teams each, each team would play the other teams in the conference either five or six times (on a rotating basis).
As for the playoffs, the top four teams from each conference would qualify. They would play a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 playoff within the conference. The winners of each conference would make up the 4 semi-final teams in a run for the Cup.
I for one am actually really excited for this new alignment. I think the league dealt with the Winnipeg problem in a creative way that helped some other current Western Conference teams with their scheduling gripes as well. The same number of teams will qualify for the playoffs under the new format, and by keeping the first two rounds of the playoffs within each conference I think existing rivalries will be magnified and new rivalries will be built. Geographically this makes a whole lot of sense. I am also happy that most of the classic rivalries (Boston/Montreal, Chicago/Detroit, Philadelphia/New York, etc) have been preserved within the new structure. I love that every team plays every other team both at home and on the road in a given season. This means that NHL fans in every city will have at least one to chance to see all of the league's major stars. Like any proposal, it is not without flaw. One thing I can think of right off the bat is that the teams in Conference "A" and "B" have a 50% chance of making the post-season, while the teams in Conference "C" and "D" have a greater than 50% chance. Overall though, I still like this change.
So, what do you think of the realignment? Does your favorite team benefit, or is it hurt by these changes in your opinion? Finally, what do you think some good names would be for these four new conferences? I'm definitely interested in hearing all of your thoughts on this major change...
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