Drawing new lines
NHL realigns the conferences.
On Thursday, March 14, the NHL approved their plan to realign the conferences of the league. This realignment changes in some big ways. First of all, each conference will be divided into two divisions, instead of the current three. The Winnipeg Jets will be joining the Western Conference while the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets will be joining the Eastern Conference. The west will have two divisions of seven teams; the east will have two divisions of eight teams. This realignment will be 'division-based' rather than 'conference-based,' meaning that making the playoffs depends on your standing within the division rather than in the conference. There is no such thing as a perfect alignment, but we won't know if it is good until we see it. But even in speculation, there are pros and cons.
One exciting pro would be that each team would be visiting every arena at least once in the season. This is especially exciting for us, who live on the west coast. This means that we get to see Crosby, Ovechkin, and Stamkos play in Vancouver all in the same season, provided that they stay healthy. This could not be more exciting for those with Canucks season tickets, who get to see teams from way out east. Along with this, the teams in the east get to feel the wrath of long-distance travel, something they have had the luxury of not doing too often in a season.
Due to the Detroit Red Wings movement east, the Chicago Blackhawks are left as the only original six NHL team in the Western Conference. This to me is very sad, as I did like to watch the Red Wings play. A major con with the realignment is the separation of current key rivalries. Detroit, having dominated the west for many years, has created many good rivalries with the Blackhawks, Canucks, and Predators. Unfortunately, we won't be seeing those teams go at it too often anymore. Along with that, even within the conferences, the divisions greatly separate some rivalries. The Canucks and Blackhawks will not be seeing each other as often as a result of the large quantity of divisional match-ups per season. Same goes for Boston and New York. The silver lining to this, however, is that new divisional rivals will form. But it's unfortunate to have a few current rivalries separated.
The realignment will make more sense geographically. This is a pro for many teams in the west who have been 'misaligned.' Detroit and Columbus in the west was definitely off. The Dallas Stars also got their wish to get out of the pacific division, where they are currently placed. The realignment will create better travel for most teams, as the divisional teams are geographically closer to each other. One exception, however, would be the Florida teams. The Panthers and the Lightning were put into the same division as the northern eastern teams, which is quite odd. Bettman's explanation to this was that the Florida teams would get fans from northern markets who spend their time in Florida to watch their games. Poor Lightning and Panthers fans. Bettman understands that it is a bit of a problem geographically, but that it would help from a business standpoint.
The pros seem to outweigh the cons in this new realignment. There is no perfect solution to this, but it will be very exciting to see how this turns out. It will seem like a new NHL when new rivalries form. Hopefully for us in the west, it will be a treat to see some of the stars we never get to see.