The NHL’s new plan for conference realignment may not be perfect, but it shows that the league is willing to implement major changes in the wake of waning popularity and a nasty lockout.
After labor negotiations devolved and a season was in jeopardy of being canceled for the second time in less than a decade, it became abundantly clear that the league would need to make changes to the fundamental infrastructure of its business model.
The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings are located in the Eastern Time Zone, but both teams play in the Western Conference. The opposite is true for the Winnipeg Jets.
One of the core reasons for the NHL taking a distant back seat to the other three major American sports has been its inability to land a relatively lucrative television deal. While there are many reasons for this, one of them is these teams’ nonsensical placement in the league’s current alignment.
Grouping teams together based on the time zones they play in ensures that more fans will watch games, and it is an easy fix for the league to make.
What is the biggest problem with the plan for realignment?
Again, there are certainly flaws in the new plans. With the Eastern franchises competing in eight-team divisions and the Western ones playing against only seven teams, those with better access to the Pacific Ocean will also have an easier time reaching the playoffs.
In addition, some teams will benefit more than others. While the Red Wings’ travel burden will be significantly decreased, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers will have issues with the amount of miles they will be logging under the new plan.
These problems give the parties complaining about the proposal legitimate reasons to be skeptical, but the benefit for the league’s television contracts is a greater good that should cause concerned teams to swallow their gripes.
Without more exposure, more exciting matchups aired at reasonable hours and more money from the networks, the NHL has no shot of repairing its image.
The realigned conferences will provide a structure that helps the league accomplish its long-term goals. The NHL would be looking at a brighter future with this new plan.