This will mean enacting a long-anticipated conference switch for the franchises in Columbus, Detroit and Winnipeg. With the newly configured conferences and divisions comes many dusted-off elements of the past for the more seasoned fanbases and both geographic and personnel-centric intrigue for all three.
In alphabetical order among the three conference-shifting teams, here are the top nine matchups (three for each team) that NHL fans will see more of from this autumn onward.
*Historical information and stats are courtesy of HockeyDB.com, ourhistory.canadiens.com and Hockey-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.
Geographically speaking, the Pittsburgh Penguins are easily the Columbus Blue Jackets’ closest new divisional rival at a distance of 185 miles (per mapquest.com) or roughly a three-hour road trip.
Besides that, there are universally applicable reasons for the fans of both Pennsylvania teams to look forward to regular encounters with the Jackets.
Columbus’ roster features a Pittsburgh native and a former Philadelphia Flyer in R.J. Umberger. The Jackets boast another prominent ex-Flyer in goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and a host of other second-time-around divisional adversaries (once in the Atlantic and now in the Metropolitan) who previously played for the New York Rangers.
Speaking of which…
The coming campaign will not only mark the first opportunity for each team’s fanbase to see all of those old friends again. It will mark the beginning of a new era for these franchises as divisional rivals, which means multiple returns to each other’s venues on an annual basis.
Daniel Alfredsson: Ottawa Senator for life until he sought what he seems to believe will be thicker ice in Motown.
Need we say more?
There is more to this than the Original Six aspect and even the fact that these teams will finally have their Winter Classic after the lockout bumped it off a year.
Before the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs met in six Stanley Cup Finals between 1942 and 1964. They also met in the 1938 final, and from 1941-42 to 1966-67, combined to win 15 out of 26 possible Cups.
Not long after expansion, Detroit and Toronto were rivals in the Norris/Central Division from 1981-82 until 1997-98, when the Leafs shuffled to the Northeast Division. During that era, the Wings took a seven-game division final in 1987 and a six-game semifinal in 1988 before Toronto won a seven-game bout in 1993.
During that aforementioned stretch of 26 years where Detroit and Toronto won an aggregate 15 Stanley Cups, one of the other 11 titles went to Chicago.
The other 10: Montreal.
Not unlike the Wings-Leafs divisional arrangement, having the Wings and Habs as divisional rivals is a mouthwatering scenario for hockey history buffs. These franchises met in five finals during the Original Six era, including four in the 1950s, at the height of the Gordie Howe-Ted Lindsay era in Detroit and Maurice Richard’s days in Montreal, as outlined in the book, "Maurice Richards: The Most Amazing Hockey Player Ever" by Chris Robinson.
But the Montreal Canadiens and Red Wings have not met in the playoffs since 1978. With realignment and a return to a divisional playoff bracket, the odds of splashing that drought have instantaneously skyrocketed.
Those who fall under that heading are Kevin Bieksa, Alexandre Burrows, Alexander Edler, Jannik Hansen, Ryan Kesler, Mayson Raymond, Jordan Schroeder, Bill Sweatt, Chris Tanev and Aaron Volpatti.
Now that the Moose have given way to Winnipeg’s new NHL franchise and the new Jets are in the Western Conference, Manitoban hockey fans will have regular chances to see an eyeful of their past competing against their present.
Speaking of Winnipeg’s hockey past, Shane Doan is still a Phoenix Coyote. He has played only one game in Winnipeg over the two years since the current Jets franchise replaced the one that left and took him with it following his rookie season.
To date, the only Jets-Coyotes matchups on record took place in Phoenix on Oct. 15, 2011, and in Manitoba on Dec. 1, 2011. Now that the teams are both in the Western Conference, each arena will have double that quantity each season.
Winnipeg-born Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp had the honor of hosting the new Jets’ first-ever away game at Chicago’s United Center on Oct. 13, 2011. But circumstances have barred the franchises from meeting at either venue since then.
That will change this autumn, as they are now not only in the same conference, but also the same division. Sharp and Toews will return home to play meaningful games at the MTS Centre on Nov. 2 and again on Nov. 21.
When the Jets return the visit to Chicago, as many as three members of at least one of the Blackhawks’ two recent Stanley Cup Championship teams will be returning to their old haunts. The Jets have Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and now Michael Frolik on their roster.