The NHL has sent a new proposal for realignment to all thirty teams, the logistics of which have now surfaced in detail. Should the plan be approved, the Edmonton Oilers could find themselves in the new Pacific division next season, facing off against a few familiar divisional rivals, as well as some new (yet, still familiar) additions.
You can read Pierre LeBrun’s breakdown here: http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/8991414/nhl-realignment-proposal-adds-playoff-wild-cards-drops-league-4-divisions.
The new system would see four divisions— Central, Atlantic, Pacific, and Mid-West—making up Eastern and Western conferences, with Central and Atlantic playing in the East, Mid-West and Pacific playing in the West. The West would include two less teams than the East, with seven teams playing in each of its divisions instead of eight.
The Pacific division would include the following clubs:
While the Oilers squad might be glad that this group of cities includes some of the most palatable climates in the league, it will also make for a tough and competitive playoff race.
The new playoff system will see the top three teams from each division making the playoffs, as well as two wild card teams from each conference chosen from the remaining basement dwellers. In the 2011-12 season, four of the seven teams slotted for the new Pacific division made the playoffs, with the Calgary Flames falling five points short and finishing ninth.
This season, three of those teams currently sit in a playoff spot, while San Jose and Phoenix are one point out. The Oilers are two. It is yet to be determined whether the Anaheim Ducks powerhouse-season-in-the-making is an illusion or not, but the Vancouver Canucks are perennial contenders and everyone expected a stronger showing from the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings early on.
If the season were to end today, albeit only 16-18 games in, the Oilers would finish in second last in the Pacific division, but only two points out of a playoff spot.
From this season's standpoint, there's no apparent imbalance between the two divisions. However, the Pacific will house some of the Western Conference's perennial powerhouses of the last half-decade.
Vancouver and San Jose have been consistent contenders for most of the post-2004 lockout era, and Anaheim looks to be returning to their 2007 champion form. Even the Phoenix Coyotes surprised last year and won in a weak division. They haven’t played themselves out of playoff consideration this season, either.
Because Anaheim’s current season contrasts so sharply with their last, they’re a difficult horse to call. It’s likely they will lose either Getzlaf or Perry before the 2013-2014 season – a subtraction that can only hurt them, save for an immediately great return in a trade.
From the Oilers' standpoint, it would appear that only Calgary can be counted on to flub consistently for a few years in the new division.
Based on sheer numbers, fewer teams in the West would mean those clubs have a slightly better shot at making the playoffs, but it would seem that realignment will only hurt the Edmonton Oilers. The new system would not allow them to compete for bottom spots with the majority of other mid-to-low level teams, as well as those whose positions in the NHL standings have been more volatile in recent seasons.
Should the proposal be accepted by NHL teams, the copper and blue will have to either learn to win against tougher competition on a more regular basis or face the uncertainty of a wild card decision. They will have to do it soon if they want to make it into a playoff picture that potentially just got a little tighter for teams in the Pacific.