What's to Love and What's to Hate About NHL Conference Realignment?

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What's to Love and What's to Hate About NHL Conference Realignment?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL is one pro sports league that isn't afraid to make bold changes to its landscape.

As the league has added more teams over the past few decades, it has used several different conference alignments and division setups, some of which were less-than-ideal situations for many teams.

In an effort to accommodate the needs and wants of as many clubs as possible, the NHL and NHLPA agreed on a new realignment plan in March that will start in the 2013-14 season. When the league announced the schedule for next year on Friday, fans were able to get a better idea of how realignment is going to impact their favorite team.

Let's examine two likes and dislikes from the new realignment format.

 

Like: Four Original Six Teams in One Division

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings' move to the Eastern Conference puts four Original Six teams in the same division.

Since the Red Wings played in the Western Conference for nearly 20 years, hockey fans in Boston, Montreal and Toronto have been able to attend games against this historic team only once or twice per season. That number will rise dramatically now that Detroit is part of the Atlantic Division (Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers).

The fact that all four of these Original Six teams are playoff-caliber franchises also makes this the perfect time for the Red Wings to switch conferences. There aren't going to be many boring nights in the Atlantic Division next season.

The inclusion of Detroit in the East should also create some exciting playoff matchups, some of which a whole generation of hockey fans have never seen.

Playoff Matchup Most Recent Meeting
Bruins vs. Red Wings 1957 (Boston won 4-1)
Canadiens vs. Red Wings 1978 (Montreal won 4-1)
Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings 1993 (Toronto won 4-3)

Detroit's first Original Six matchup of the season is October 5 at TD Garden in Boston.

 

Like: The Southeast Division Is Gone

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Southeast Division was one of the worst in NHL history. For the past two years, it's been one of the weakest divisions that the league has seen in a long time.

Here's a look at the playoff appearances for each club since the 2004-05 lockout (seven seasons):

Team Appearances
Panthers One
Lightning Three
Hurricanes Two
Capitals Five
Thrashers/Jets One

The Washington Capitals were the only team that consistently performed at a high level from the Southeast. In fact, they are the only team from this division to ever win the Presidents' Trophy.

Breaking up this division was a great idea for several reasons.

The Winnipeg Jets don't have to go to Florida to play the Panthers and Lightning as division opponents anymore, which will significantly lessen the team's travel each year. Winnipeg's move to the Central Division also helps them establish rivalries with teams in their geographic area, such as the Minnesota Wild.

The Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes will join the old Atlantic Division teams plus the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division, which also decreases the amount of travel for these teams.

Even though the Panthers and Lightning will actually do more traveling as part of the new Atlantic Division, the league will benefit from having the young stars on these teams (including Tampa's Steven Stamkos and Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau) playing in major markets on a regular basis.

 

Dislike: The Division Names Are Awful and Unimaginative

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The announcement of the new division names didn't go as many NHL fans had hoped. Instead of using names of former NHL greats, the league decided to use three old names and add a fourth (Metropolitan) that has received a great amount of criticism.

It's a bit odd that the Metropolitan name was used when it doesn't describe the geographic location of its teams like the other division names.

This is how I would have named the four divisions:

  • PacificWayne Gretzky Division
  • CentralBobby Hull Division
  • AtlanticBobby Orr Division
  • MetropolitanMario Lemieux Division

If the NHL wasn't comfortable with picking names of Hall of Famers for the divisions, the return of Patrick, Smythe, Adams and Norris divisions would have been the next best option.

 

Dislike: Red Wings and Blackhawks Rivalry Is Broken Up

Realignment's interference with the historic Chicago Blackhawks and Red Wings rivalry is one of the most unfortunate results from the new setup.

Detroit and Chicago are two of the league's most fierce rivals, and after the two engaged in an epic seven-game playoff series last season, the separation of these clubs has become even more painful. Since 1935, they met 16 times in the postseason.

Instead of having six games between these rivals each season, they will likely play only two times under the new conference format. Next season, the Red Wings and Blackhawks will square off only twice.

The next playoff meeting between Detroit and Chicago will have to be in the Stanley Cup Final.

While the Red Wings will be able to rekindle old rivalries with the other Original Six clubs in the East, the Blackhawks are now the only Original Six club in the West. With that said, realignment could make the rivalry between the St. Louis Blues and the Blackhawks much more intense than it has been over the past decade. These Central Division teams had some epic playoff matchups in the 1990s.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. 

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