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Is this what NHL realignment will look like?

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Will Columbus vs. Detroit be an Eastern Conference matchup next season? [Jay LaPrete/AP]

Will Columbus vs. Detroit be an Eastern Conference matchup next season? [Jay LaPrete/AP]

By Allan Muir

During Hockey Night In Canada’s Hot Stove segment last night, Elliotte Friedman revealed what he says is the NHL’s most recent plan for realigning the league into a four-conference set up.

At first glance, it makes a lot of sense…especially for a pair of Eastern time zone teams currently trapped in the Western Conference, and a Southeastern club that needs to be shifted west.

Friedman reported the Detroit Red Wings would move to an eight-team conference with Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Florida and Tampa Bay.

The second new Eastern grouping would see the Columbus Blue Jackets move east to join the Rangers, Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey and Carolina.

There also would be two seven-team conferences. One, primarily Central time grouping would see Winnipeg joining Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis and Nashville, while Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim would populate the other.

This wins on so many levels, particularly the move of Detroit to conference one. It reunites four of the Original Six teams. It reignites the old Toronto/Detroit rivalry. And while it would mean extra travel for Florida and Tampa Bay, the plan would bring marquee opponents to these attendance trouble spots on a regular basis.

Most important, it removes the league’s most onerous travel/TV schedule from one of its cornerstone franchises.

“It’d be unbelievable,” Jimmy Howard told the Detroit Free Press “The travel takes years off of all our lives.

“We know how to deal with it, we’ve traveled back-and-forth across the United States quite a bit, but to move to the East, I think that would be a lot of fun. That would be great for our fans, too, not having to stay up till all hours of the night to watch us.”

Columbus also would benefit from a steady diet of eastern time zone opponents, and while they’d sacrifice a key rival in Detroit they’d gain a new one in Pittsburgh. Winnipeg would bring in a more natural rival in Minnesota while ditching its old Atlanta Thrashers ties. Washington returns to the old Patrick Division stomping grounds (giving us more Caps-Pens matchups). The Stars escape the PST starts that killed their TV ratings.

But the big win might be in the scheduling. Sources suggest every team would play a home-and-home with clubs in the other conferences. Clubs in the seven-team conferences would play six times (three home, three away). Teams in the eight-team conferences would play either five or six times on a rotating basis. Three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times.

That works, right? It gives fans in every city a reliable opportunity to see all the stars the league has to offer–something the league has been criticized for failing to make happen in the past–and it creates a breeding ground for more natural, and more intense, rivalries…especially if the playoff format is built around inter conference battles.

There was no way to make everyone happy, of course, and in this scenario the loser looks to be Nashville, though not in a crushing way. The Preds expressed a preference for moving to the East, which won’t happen, and they lose a popular rival in Detroit. That will hurt, but it is all part of the greater good being served.

While this plan should win approval of the Board of Governors at their upcoming meeting, it still needs to pass the scrutiny of the NHLPA. That’s no sure thing given their surprising rejection of the previous realignment proposal back in December, 2011.

But it appears to address their primary concern: reducing travel. And while the details have yet to be finalized, Friedman said a wild-card system would be introduced as a way of leveling the playing field so that clubs playing in either a seven- or eight-team conference would have essentially the same chance of making the playoffs. That was another problem the PA had with the original plan.

Other details regarding the postseason are sketchy, although it’s thought the conference format would create some compelling options with reseeding starting in the semifinals. The Rangers, for instance, could meet the Canadiens in the Final, or Chicago could play Vancouver.

That sounds pretty tasty.

The plan looks like a winner from this vantage point. Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear what you think

  • Published On Feb 24, 2013
  • 8 comments
    heliocharon
    heliocharon

    As a Bruins fan living in NYC, I must confess to not understanding this grouping. I am all for the Habs-Bruins rivalry; but NY and Boston have "enjoyed" a sports and cultural rivalry for almost the entire course of US history. I also do not understand the reason for all the mid-Atlantic teams to be in the same conference. In football and baseball they have realized the value in splitting up NYC teams among two different conferences.

    inetadv
    inetadv

    Fl and TB should move into the mid-Atlantic conference w/ Rangers et. al., instead of having to travel as far north as Montreal and as far west as Dettroit. That makes room to allows Columbus to move with established rival Detroit to the East, rather than hoping to establish a rivalry with Pitt. One more mid-Atl team would have to shift to the East to accommodate moving Fl and TB, so the natural is Carolina, which has its old Whalers roots in a Boston rivalry. Carolina doesn't otherwise have any strong rivalries with any current foes so nothing is lost.

    WestCoastSteve
    WestCoastSteve

    As a long time fan of one the the unoriginal twenty-four, I would like to contend that the "original six" has absolutely zero credibility to current-generation hockey fans. Any mention of "re-uniting" piece parts of the past doesn't hold an ounce of sway with me. However, all other logic in the article seems to apply as far as alignment. Post-season is another kettle of fish. Two teams from the same conference meeting in the Stanley Cup Final doesn't feel right.

    inetadv
    inetadv

     @WestCoastSteve The alignment plan described DIDN'T offer 'same conference' finals. The plan as described would have the four conference winners reseeded for the semi's. Based on the FOUR conference realignment, it would allow an all-east final (of Original Sixers, no less) OR a a match-up of western/mid-western teams, rather than an exclusive East-West result.

     

    It would thus allow for a truer 'balance of power' matchup among the conferences, instead of guaranteeing one team from the East and one from the West regardless of relative strength of the conferences - which currently permits anticlimactic SC Finals on occasion, where the REAL battle for the Cup takes place in one of the conference semi series.

     

    Also, the Orig Six still retains a LOT of attraction for a LARGE percentage of existing hockey fans, based on the LONG and intense history between particular clubs, like the decades old rivalries established between Mon-Bos, or Det-Tor.  While it may mean zip to you, you'd be hugely mistaken to assume it means little to a great many hockey fans. And the Orig Six still remain among the most significant draws for newer franchises - especially in non-traditional markets.

    2001mark
    2001mark

    I really like this because frankly, the NHL needs to stop disregarding logic lol.  Winnipeg could care less about playing western Canadian teams if it means less travel & closer rivals- not to mention they already enjoyed the Central in their previous life.  As for Florida & Tampa?  Anyone who knows anything about the NHL realizes that enough of their core fans have roots in eastern Canada/northeastern US, & I'm 1000% certain those cold climate teams won't mind some more trips into the Sunshine State during the winter yes?  I guess the baby elephant in the room - what of the Coyotes, Nordiques situation down the road?  I don't know what they'd do to accommodate Quebec City in the 8 team Northeast while closing up shop in the 7 team Pacific.  Unless of course the Coyotes move to Seattle, while Quebec City is forced to pay the owners expansion dollars lol.

    Lyle F
    Lyle F

    It looks ok to me. Nothing will ever be perfect, but it seems to work. I don't understand how it can be said that Detroit has the most onerous travel schedule. They aren't even close. Last year, 14 teams travelled more, sometimes 1000's of miles more, and 2 teams travelled about 100 miles less. In other words, more than half the league travelled as much, or in most cases, more than the Wings. Does it make sense they are moved to the East? Sure. But they certainly don't have anything close to the most onerous travle schedule. Just check out Florida, Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado, Dallas, LA, San Jose, Edmonton, Calgary, or Vancouver.

    inetadv
    inetadv

     @Lyle F The 'onerous' schedule has more to do w/ Detroit having to travel out of their time zone for the vast majority of games - including a substantial portion the full 3 time zones away. Thus they have to contend with 'jet lag' regularly, and they have to endure a large number of late night starts relative to their biological clocks, while their fans following at home on tv  have to deal with all the late starts on weeknights with work waiting the next morning.

    epeck
    epeck

     @Lyle F You also have to look at how much travel Detroit generates for the other teams in the West that must fly in to play them. This realignment would also reduce travel for Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado, Dallas LA, San Jose, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Having Detroit and Columbus in the West is a major problem for the entire conference. They are the REASON all of these teams log so many miles.