Some may wonder if this move will help or hurt their competitiveness. To be honest, it really does not matter. The NHL is not like the baseball, where there are different rules that lead to a different style of play.
Most differences in play are just how a team performs and not conference-specific, despite what myths there may be. One conference may be dominant for a season or two, but not for the long term. Over the past 20 seasons, each conference has won 10 Stanley Cups.
So if the new plan does not benefit the team competitively, then why should fans care?
Anyone who has spent late nights watching the countless playoff games that don’t end until well past midnight know the main benefit of this plan from the fans’ perspective.
While it will not eliminate the late-night games, it will severely reduce them. One of the great parts of the plan is that every team will have a home-and-home series with teams in the other conference, just like the NBA does. This will allow the entire NHL to see every team, every season. There will still be a handful of late games, but it will be nowhere near the number that there is now.
Another benefit is that there will be regular games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The rivalry between the two teams in one of the best in hockey. Under the last realignment plan, these two teams were split up and fans have complained about it ever since.
The plan is not perfect. There will be 14 teams in the Western Conference while the Eastern Conference will have 16. This does lead to some imbalance and brings up some issues come playoff time. The plan calls for a wild card to be a part of the new structure.
The new Central Division could also be better. The proposal calls for it to be made up of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets should be swapped for Tampa Bay and Florida as those teams fit the region better and are closer to Detroit.
While the Blue Jackets don't yet have a foe, Michigan and Ohio are natural enemies. If the Blue Jackets ever become a good team, they could easily form a rivalry with the Red Wings. There is enough animosity between Detroit and Pittsburgh that regular matchups between them would be great.
It will be difficult to foster such rivalries with the Florida teams, but having two of them in the same division will still help some Detroit fans. Michigan is a major state where people head south from during the winter months. As a result, both Florida teams will see a big Red Wings influx when Detroit comes to town.
Some will point out that losing the Chicago Blackhawks is bad; that isn't quite the case though. When Toronto and Detroit were separated, they would not even play each other some seasons. Under this plan, the Wings and Blackhawks will still play each other twice a year. While it is not as many games as they currently play, it will still keep the rivalry alive.
In the end, the biggest benefit is travel time. In most seasons, Detroit is one of the most traveled teams in the league. Now, not only will they travel less, but there will be more balance among the travel that all teams have. Granted, the teams in the Atlantic Division are clustered together, but beyond that this will be a better arraignment for all teams.
The plan still needs to be approved by the NHL Players' Association and the NHL's Board of Governors. At this point, though, it seems like the plan will be adopted.
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