2012 NHL Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL Does Not Need a Total Realignment
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It feels like a long time since December 5, 2011, doesn't it?
The beginning of this season was a buzz with the possibility of a conference realignment that would have created 4 new conferences based on regions throughout the league. The plan, introduced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, was approved unanimously by the NHL's Board of Governors on the date listed above.
Originally, the plan was going to go into effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 regular season.
That was the case until the NHL Players' Association shot down the realignment nearly a month later.
The NHLPA vote came as a surprise to many since coaches and players around the league were somewhat thrilled over the prospects of a realignment.
But maybe the vote was simply a sign of the coming storm that was this year's NHL Playoffs.
After Vancouver, Chicago, Detroit, San Jose, Pittsburgh, and defending champion Boston all went down in the first round, the playoffs were busted wide open.
New York and St. Louis, the two highest point gaining teams left in the postseason, became the instant favorites for the Stanley Cup Finals.
But a few teams were in the way for St. Louis, including a Los Angeles team that sneaked into the playoffs during the last weeks of the season, a Phoenix team that won it's first postseason series since they were the original Winnipeg Jets, and a Nashville team coming off of their second ever postseason series victory..
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Standing in front of the Blue Shirts were the perennial favorites Washington, 2010 Eastern Conference Champion and arch-rival Philadelphia, and Hudson River rivals New Jersey.
And two series later, an eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings team faces the sixth seeded New Jersey Devils for the Stanley Cup.
An argument for the NHL realignment included parity, seeing that teams such as Detroit, San Jose, and Vancouver had all made the playoffs each of the past four years.
Other arguments included late game times for west coast games, an argument brought up by Detroit owner Mike Ilitch.
Of course, the original reason for conference changes started with the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg to revive the Jets.
Obviously, having a Canadian team play most of it's games against teams based in the southeastern United States is a huge disadvantage for the Canadian team. They have to play across the border for the majority of the long season.
But why should the entire conference structure be obliterated for one team?
Why should Detroit, a team with no shortage of success under the current conference system, have so much power over the league that they can effect a major change with the snap of a finger?
Of course, it's hard to prove a conspiracy theory without strong evidence, but really, that evidence is not relevant at this point.
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The only relevant evidence are the results of the postseason.
An eighth seed knocked off the first, second and third seeds for the first time in NHL history.
The Devils, a team that flew under the radar for most of the season, beat out strong Philadelphia and New York squads.
And to make things more interesting, the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals ended in overtime, the 24th overtime game of these NHL playoffs.
Of those 24 overtime games, Los Angeles has played in three and New Jersey has played in six. That's a combined nine overtime games between the Stanley Cup finalists.
So, parity is an issue?
Not according to these playoffs.
An NHL with four conferences that would build up regional rivalries on paper would make for a competitive regular season. But with the first round creating a one through four seeding system like from the days of the Norris, Smythe, Adams and Patrick divisions, the first round would be limited to the regional teams who, according to the new alignment, would face each other after a combined 36 inter-conference games during the regular season.
Would we have as competitive of a first round series with this alignment? Sure.
Should the Realignment Plan Still Be Passed?
But would it be fair for the other teams and the fans who saw one of the most compelling first rounds of an NHL playoff ever from this year?
That is the big question.
Personally, the only teams who should be moving conferences should be Winnipeg and the Columbus Blue Jackets in a one-for-one swap. Then trade Winnipeg for Minnesota to switch from the Central and Northwest divisions to revive a second rendition of the North Stars-Blackhawks rivalries from the 1980s.
Objectionably, Winnipeg could be swapped one-for-one with Columbus without moving Minnesota at all in order to not mess with the current division alignments.
No matter how the realignment is done, keep the Eastern and Western Conference intact.
To paraphrase an old saying, don't fix something if it isn't broken.
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