NHL Realignment: How It Could Impact Each NHL Team
For NHL fans, the three months from July to October are some of the longest of the year.
The parades have concluded, the draft is finished, and any major free agent moves have already happened.
However, this offseason was spiced up when ESPN broke the news of Commissioner Bettman’s plans to realign the league following the 2011-12 season.
As we learned that the Atlanta Thrashers would become the Winnipeg Jets, it was clear that change would be coming to the NHL. Many speculated on which Western Conference team would be headed East.
However, it appears that rather than just swapping two teams, Bettman is poised to make a much more dramatic change.
In ESPN’s report, it was stated that Bettman plans on moving from six divisions to four, though it appears he will retain the current East/West format for the conferences.
This adjustment would shake up the first round of the playoffs as well, as Bettman wants to see a divisional matchup for the opening series.
This is how I see the Divisions playing out:
Assuming things go as discussed above, let’s look at how each team would be affected moving forward.
For the Anaheim Ducks, the move from the current five-team Pacific Division to a new eight-team format would mean a bit more travel, but ultimately, more exposure.
I don’t see the Ducks losing any ground in the Division whether it stays at five teams or expands to the proposed eight.
The addition of Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton would do little to shake up the balance of power as the Oilers and Avalanche skated to the NHL’s worst two records last season.
Currently, it’s a tight race between Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose for the top spot, and I don’t see that changing.
The Ducks have found a star in Corey Perry and look to be back in championship form.
In the current Pacific Division, all the teams are located in the Southwest. However, with the addition of two Canadian teams, I believe the Ducks would have more opportunities to market their product.
Anaheim could see themselves playing on Hockey Night in Canada, and in my mind, that can only mean positive exposure for their budding superstars.
While the change of scenery may be a positive for the Anaheim Ducks, the same can’t be said for the Boston Bruins.
The defending Stanley Cup champions currently find themselves in the Northeast Division with four of the East’s weaker teams in Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
Though the Bruins won the division and claimed the third seed in the 2011 playoffs, the runners up in the other two divisions had equal or superior records to Boston.
While Boston may have coasted to a divisional championship, a realignment like that mentioned above would ensure the Bruins would be a fighting champion.
The networks would love to see Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and the new-look Flyers at the Garden every season, but I believe Boston would drop to third or lower in the new division.
I don’t see this is an argument against realignment, but rather, an argument for it.
Let’s bring together the more talented teams and make a divisional championship mean something.
If it goes like I think it will, Boston will be waiting a long time for another cup.
The Buffalo Sabres are primed for a breakout season in 2011-12. This offseason, they added forward Villie Leino and coveted defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Buffalo is a great hockey city with a team that’s getting better by the minute.
But the Sabres are suffocating under the tradition of the current Northeast Division. The teams and buildings are getting stale and Buffalo needs a change.
Plain and simple, it’s difficult to break out when three of your four divisional rivals are Original Six teams.
Realignment would take Boston out of the picture and introduce Detroit, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.
It would be exciting to see Buffalo match up against the Rangers on a regular basis, and I believe that games between the Wings and Sabres would bring the most passionate crowds the NHL has ever seen.
Though the realignment would mean a step up in competition, I believe in the long run, it will be a positive for the Sabres.
As proposed, NHL realignment could very well snuff out the Flames.
Despite a 41-29-12 record last season, the team has aged considerably since their last playoff appearance.
Miikka Kiprusoff’s work load has lead to his inconsistency, and the players in front of him lack jump late in games.
Presently, the Flames share their division with Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver. As it stands, Calgary is a middle-of-the-pack team.
However, if the NHL opts to go with a four-division format, we will almost certainly see the departure of the Wild and the introduction of the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Coyotes.
That would mean that of this year’s eight Western Conference playoff representatives, five would be housed in the Pacific Division.
As is, I have the Flames as a long shot to make the playoffs. However, if they were to find themselves in a division with the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes and Canucks, a return to the postseason could be virtually impossible.
The Carolina Hurricanes are young, hungry and currently buried in the superstar-laden Southeast Division.
Carolina’s roster includes Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Skinner, two young and exciting players who most fans outside the state have never heard of. The Hurricanes have little to lose in the realignment situation, seeing as how they are already divisional rivals with the Capitals and the Lightning.
Carolina would probably gain considerable exposure heading into Philadelphia and Boston on a regular basis, but it remains to be seen how the win totals would be effected.
The jury is still out on how the move would affect the Canes in the long term, but the short-term change would certainly be less drastic than other teams will face.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another big winner in this realignment scenario. For the Hawks, this isn’t about travel or money or competition. Instead, it’s about prestige.
Currently, they reside in the Central Division and share the spotlight with fellow Original Sixers, the Detroit Red Wings.
However, in the newly proposed Midwest Division, Chicago would be the eldest of the teams.
Surrounded by Dallas, Winnipeg, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus, it’s hard to argue that the Hawks would become the biggest draw of the division.
Chicago would sell out buildings every night as the West clings to its last shred of heritage.
In other words, Chicago could instantly become the star of the conference.
Some will say that losing the Detroit/Chicago rivalry will hurt the league, but I believe greener pastures await both teams.
After a considerable absence at the top, the Blackhawks are finally back to their winning ways. With superstars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, they will continue to be a force for years to come.
If Detroit heads East, Chicago fans should rejoice.
The Colorado Avalanche are another team that would get a bad draw in the proposed realignment.
Looking at the map, it seems inevitable that if the NHL were to go to a four-division format, one of the divisions would consist of the Oilers, Flames, Canucks, Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Coyotes and Avalanche.
Geographically, these eight teams are separated from the rest of the NHL, and until Kansas City gets a team, this division is really a no-brainer.
But in terms of where the Avs stand, would anything really change?
Last season, the Avalanche were a disappointing 30-44-8. Incredibly though, their 68 points didn't even rank them last in their division.
The current Northwest Division is divided into the "haves" and the "have nots." It should be clear what category Colorado fits into.
So then, would introducing the Sharks, Kings, Ducks and Coyotes really shake things up?
For the Avalanche, at least right now, the answer is no.
But it is worth noting that with Detroit moving to the East, the Avs are losing their one true rival.
Unfortunately, I believe things are going to get worse before they get better in the Mile High City.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are my other team to watch in 2011-12.
This offseason, the front office went bananas, signing free-agent defenseman James Wisniewski and acquiring All-Star center Jeff Carter from the Flyers.
With Rick Nash and Steve Mason already in place, the Blue Jackets suddenly look like contenders.
Unfortunately for them, they play in one of the strongest divisions in hockey, squaring off against the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Predators and Blues.
The Red Wings have made the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons, which likely means the Jackets, Hawks and Preds will all continue fight for one playoff spot (possibly a second).
In the realigned NHL, the Jackets would find themselves in a division with Dallas, Winnipeg, St. Louis, Minnesota, Chicago and Nashville.
Minnesota, St. Louis and Winnipeg are all a few years from contention. Dallas just lost their best player, and Chicago seems to have an identity crisis going on. Nashville will be the team to beat in the Northwest Division.
It would stand to reason then, that Columbus could jump from a third or fourth place team under the current format, all the way up to a first or second place team in the new division.
In the end, getting out the current Central Division would be the best thing to ever happen to the Jackets.
In 2010-11, the Dallas Stars entered their final game with an opportunity to make the playoffs. Instead, they finished just two points shy of the eight seed. And yet, even after accumulating 95 points (only eight teams had more), the Stars finished dead last in their division.
The four teams that finished ahead of them in the Pacific all made the playoffs, speaking to the strength of their division.
Dallas is a good team, and under the right circumstances, I believe they can make the postseason.
And that's why realignment is just what the doctor ordered.
In the new format, Dallas would most likely be divisional rivals with the Jets, Wild, Blues, Blackhawks, Predators and Blue Jackets.
Last season, of the group listed above, only the Blackhawks and the Predators made the playoffs. Presuming that Dallas can adjust to a new head coach and fill the void left by Brad Richards, I believe the Stars could contend for the second or third spot in the division.
Leaving a highly competitive Pacific Division would be an incredible opportunity for the Stars to rekindle the magic and re-energize their fanbase.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings may be the team that benefits the most from the realignment scenario.
Currently, the Wings are one of only two Eastern Time Zone teams (Columbus is the other) playing in the Western Conference.
It makes for grueling and expensive road trips out West and a 10:30 PM start time for the fans back home.
In both 2010 and 2011, the Wings’ claimed opening-round playoff series wins over the Phoenix Coyotes. Both years, they had to follow it up with a trip back to California to play the San Jose Sharks in Round 2.
In 2010, the Wings traveled from Detroit (Game 5) to Phoenix (Game 6), then back to Detroit (Game 7), and then on to San Jose (Game 1) all in a matter of days.
It’s impossible to know what the travel schedule takes out of the Wings, but I know the players and fans would welcome playing in the East. And in terms of competition, my eyes light up when I imagine the games that will be on the schedule.
The Wings would be divisional rivals with Montreal, Toronto, New York, Ottawa, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. The Wings/Pens rivalry was built on back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals matchups, and seeing Datsyuk and Crosby on the ice together gives fans chills.
Although the teams share a different style of play, I believe it could be as big as the Wings/Avs rivalry from years ago.
If Detroit winds up in the East, there’s no telling what they could accomplish.
The Edmonton Oilers find themselves in the same boat as the Avalanche.
In the last five seasons, the Oilers have failed to make the playoffs. In fact, the team only eclipsed the 71 point mark one time during that span.
Edmonton is quickly becoming irrelevant, and it's time to end the "rebuilding."
As was mentioned before, it's almost certain that Edmonton would share a division with Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix and Colorado.
Looking at the list above, I see at least four complete teams ready to make a run.
Edmonton has two former No. 1 picks in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and if these players fail to produce, the Oilers could spiral into years of dormancy.
Realignment or not, Edmonton is still a few years from competing for the postseason. However, with Bettman apparently sold on a big move, there's no doubt the pressure is mounting with Doughty, Perry, Thornton and the Sedins on the horizon.
The relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba proved that Commissioner Bettman has begun to relax his stance on moving floundering teams.
And with Quebec City and Hamilton calling, franchises with empty seats and cap space need to take action to avoid being the next to go.
Apparently, the Panthers got the message.
This offseason, the Panthers went on a spending spree adding Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Jose Theodore and Matt Bradley.
Florida’s management is quickly putting together an exciting group of players, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough to fill the building.
The Panthers would benefit, at least in the short term, from being in a division with stronger fanbases. It would mean better attendance at Panthers’ home games and more opportunities to play in front of the national media.
Currently, they play Tampa Bay, Carolina, Winnipeg and Washington. While Washington and Tampa have two of the biggest stars in the game, the division lacks a team with a nationwide fanbase.
Adding the Flyers, Islanders and Bruins would give the Panthers more exposure and almost assuredly a bump in ticket sales.
A move like this could save the franchise.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings are a very talented bunch. With forwards like Simon Gagne, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, the team is more than capable of scoring goals. On the back end, the Kings are just as solid with Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty.
When I look at the Kings, it's hard to understand why they don't draw national media attention like some of the other teams in the league.
Sure, they are on Pacific Standard Time, but they are located in one of the nation's largest television markets.
I believe the Kings could be the West Coast equivalent of the Rangers, but something appears to be holding them back.
It could just be a lack of interest in a state overpopulated with professional sports. California currently has 15 professional sports teams including the Angels, Dodgers, A's, Padres, Giants, Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, Chargers, 49ers, Raiders, Ducks and Sharks. Or it could be the Pacific Time Zone.
Either way, I believe that the Kings would benefit considerably from joining the ranks of Edmonton and Calgary in the new, eight-team Pacific Division.
Playing in Canada would do wonders for a team with this much talent and flash, and I believe bringing in Canadian teams could help spread the good word in the Western U.S.
The Kings certainly wouldn't lose any ground in the division, and the schedule would make for increased notoriety. I see this as a win-win.
This offseason, the Minnesota Wild have made two significant moves in their pursuit of the postseason.
On draft day, the Wild dealt for Shark forward Devin Setoguchi.
Then on July 3rd, they traded Martin Havlat for fellow Shark forward Dany Heatley.
In acquiring Setoguchi and Heatley, the Wild definitely bolstered their offense, but more importantly, they gained playoff experience. The Wild were a young team in need of leaders, and I believe they found some.
Now, as things are beginning to look up for the Wild, discussions have begun to revolve around realignment. In fact, it was Minnesota's owner Craig Leipold that many have said spoiled the surprise. Leipold was quoted as saying:
“Our division would include the Winnipeg Jets, us, the Blues, the Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, and maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets…maybe not depending on if they go east or west. I am all in favor of that. I think that is a grand slam, home run, hat trick for our team.”
He obviously sounds happy—and for good reason.
Moving from the Northwest Division to the Midwest Division will help the team with travel, and it will also level the playing field a bit. Gone are the dominant Canucks and the doormat Oilers and in come the Stars, Jets, Blues, Blackhawks, Predators and Blue Jackets.
The division consists of several young franchises, and it provides a real opportunity for these teams to get a foothold in the playoff picture.
The Montreal Canadiens are doing just fine.
They currently find themselves in the top three in net worth and have 24 Stanley Cup Championships over their history.
The fans in Montreal are some of the best in the league, and I love the fact that the building signs are still in French.
And yet, while heritage is fantastic, it’s easy to get lost in all the banners. With legends like Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Scotty Bowman and Patrick Roy, making a name for yourself in Montreal is a daunting task.
So that’s why as odd as it sounds, the Montreal Canadiens would benefit from sharing a division with the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canadiens are purists, and I respect that, but I believe it's time for a fresh start.
Bringing in players like Brad Richards and Sidney Crosby would be a breath of life into a rather stagnant Northeast Division.
But no matter how this whole thing turns out, Montreal is simply too big to fail.
Over the past few seasons, a nice rivalry has developed between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings.
And with the teams playing six times a season, who can blame them.
It appears that familiarity does indeed breed contempt.
But if the Wings jet off the the Eastern Conference, Nashville will lose a rival but gain ground in the postseason hunt.
Last season, the Predators showed they are a good team, but I believe they are ready to be great.
With Ryan Suter and Shea Weber on the blue line (at least for now), Nashville has arguably two of the best young defenseman in the game. They lack a superstar forward but make due with what they have. And as the last line of defense, they have the two tallest goalies I have ever seen.
The Predators currently play in one of the toughest divisions in hockey, but separating from the Red Wings could be the best possible scenario.
In the new Midwest Division, only the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets would stand in their way.
New Jersey Devils
Last season, the Devils were decimated.
At one point, they lost both Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur to injuries. On top of things, New Jersey fans are beginning to regret the mega-deal given to Ilya Kovalchuk. Coming off a 48-27-7 season in 2009-10, the Devils stumbled to a disappointing 38-39-5 record.
While injuries may have played a role, I can’t help but wonder what Brodeur has left in the tank.
All that considered, they are still contenders in the East.
In the NHL’s current format, the Devils line up against the Flyers, Penguins, Rangers and Islanders. In terms of travel, this particular grouping gives New Jersey essentially 50 home games.
The new Northeast Division would definitely provide a bump in frequent flyer miles, taking the Devils to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Detroit.
While the increased travel may prove difficult, it should prove lucrative.
I believe New Jersey will see a bump in ticket sales without a step up in competition.
Last season, the four other teams in their division racked up 378 points, an average of 94.5 points per team. The seven other teams in the new Northeast combined for 654 points, which is an average of 93.4.
New Jersey may still be a few players from a championship, but I expect they’ll be competitive whether they realign or not.
New York Islanders
If you watched any home Islanders games over the last five seasons, you may have noticed the building looked a bit empty; that’s because it was.
Since the lockout, the Islanders have ranked in the bottom three in attendance. Just last year, the team averaged a paltry 67 percent fill-rate. And in a division alongside the Flyers, Penguins, Rangers and Devils, that is astounding.
The realignment would bring in five new teams, including Ovechkin’s Caps and Stamkos’s Lightning, but I’m not convinced it would help.
I’ve never been to the Nassau Coliseum, so I can’t speak on the condition of the 39-year-old building, but there has to be a reason nobody attends Islanders games.
Either the arena is falling down around the fans, or they are simply tired of a team that underachieves.
I don’t see the realignment being a positive in terms of revenue, and I can’t see the Islanders boosting their win total against the Capitals, Bruins, Hurricanes, Panthers and Lightning.
If a deal isn’t signed to build a new arena, the Islanders could be on the move before realignment even begins.
New York Rangers
Undoubtedly, there will be a number of unhappy Rangers fans no matter where their team ends up.
Due to their proximity to other teams, as well as the length of time they’ve been in the league, the Rangers keep up the largest number of rivalries of any team in the NHL.
While these match-ups are significant, personally I feel it's unnecessary for rivals to be placed in the same division.
The Battle of New York involves the Islanders, the Battle of the Broads involves the Flyers and the Hudson River Rivalry pits the Rangers against the Devils. And of all the teams mentioned, only the Devils would find themselves in the same division as the Rangers.
Competition-wise, it would be a lateral move in my mind. While the Rangers would have to play the Wings and Penguins more often, they would lose games against the Flyers and Bruins.
The heritage and mass appeal of the Rangers gives them immunity to the effects of realignment, barring something really drastic.
If you polled most casual hockey fans on the state of the Senators, I imagine most would say Ottawa is struggling. Before doing my research, I would’ve agreed.
However, over the past 14 seasons, the Sens have made the playoffs 12 times.
Over that same span, their 12 is more than Montreal and Toronto.
They are currently among the league leaders in attendance, and only four years removed from a finals appearance.
But why then, would most fans turn their nose up at the Senators?
The reason is the Senators aren’t a sexy team when surrounded by Boston, Montreal and Toronto. And at least in this case, it appears past successes have clouded the current perception.
Ottawa has dedicated fans and decent revenue, what they are looking for now is respect.
If Ottawa were aligned with the Rangers, Penguins and Red Wings, they would finally have an opportunity to get the word out.
If you blinked this offseason, you missed a Philadelphia Flyers' trade.
First, the Flyers shipped Jeff Carter to Columbus for Jakub Voracek.
Then, literally moments later, Philladelphia dealt their captain, Mike Richards, to the Kings for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
The newly cleared cap space allowed for the Flyers to sign free-agent Ilya Bryzgalov in hopes of solidifying the goaltending position.
The Flyers then added free-agent Jaromir Jagr and traded Kris Versteeg.
The turnover this offseason was remarkable, and frankly, unprecedented.
After a 47-23-12 season, these moves will either make the ownership look like geniuses or bums. And you know, in Philadelphia, you won't have to ask for an opinion.
But how will this new-look Flyers team be affected by eventual realignment?
In the NHL's current system, the Flyers share a division with the Penguins, Rangers, Devils and Islanders. With the proposed changes, they would face the Panthers, Lightning, Hurricanes, Capitals, Islanders and Bruins.
In terms of ticket sales, I wouldn't expect any changes. The Flyers have a nationwide following, so filling the arena isn't an issue. As far as the competition goes, I do believe it would be a bit of an upgrade. Looking at that grouping, playoff positions would be at a premium, and it's all riding on the offseason moves.
Did the Flyers just reload in anticipation of seeing Ovechkin and Stamkos more often or have they set themselves up for failure?
For the Phoenix Coyotes, I would say that any change should be welcome.
After all, since falling into bankruptcy in 2008, the Coyotes have been owned and operated by the NHL. Not only is this a blatant conflict of interest, but it is preventing them from landing any big-name free agents. Lack of a superstar, coupled with constant relocation rumors, has absolutely decimated the fanbase.
In fact, in 2011 Phoenix failed to sell out its playoff games against the Red Wings.
It’s evident that the players are beginning to lose hope as well. This offseason, star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and defender Ed Jovanovski both left via free agency.
Phoenix has done little to fill the holes left by their departures, and it seems like next year is always a question mark.
Assuming the Coyotes remain in the desert, I don’t expect that the realignment would bring much relief.
As is, the Coyotes play in a very competitive division; all five teams had 95 or more points last season. For that reason, I don’t believe the addition of the Oilers, Flames, Canucks and Avs would hurt them in terms of wins.
However, unlike other teams on the list, I don’t expect Phoenix to enjoy a bump in ticket sales. With the exception of the Canucks, I just don’t see the other teams inspiring a hockey-weary fanbase to return to Jobing.com Arena.
The realignment would give Phoenix a refreshing new set of buildings to play in but not much else.
I still believe that by the time this all goes down, the Coyotes' franchise will be based in Kansas City.
Looking at the proposed realignment, Penguins fans should have a big smile on their faces.
While the team’s new division may look drastically different than their old one, I still expect the Penguins to be a dominant group.
Just look at the facts. Of the seven other teams in the new Northeast Division, none finished the 2010-11 season with more points than the Penguins.
And assuming Crosby can return to form, I believe the Pens will battle for the new Northeast Division crown for years to come
Competitive advantage aside, Pittsburgh fans should also look to embrace the opportunity to see the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Red Wings all in the same season.
But as great as that all sounds, I’m sure there are fans out there upset about my separating the Penguins and Flyers. While it may be a blow to the in-state rivalry, I believe that putting Detroit and Pittsburgh in the same division should more than make up for it.
The Wings and Pens faced off in two straight Stanley Cup Finals, and trust me when I say: the rivalry is a heated one. With arguably the two best players in the world on the ice (Crosby/Datsyuk), what’s not to love?
If you’re still not sold, let’s look at it this way. Pittsburgh and Washington have built one of the NHL’s better rivalries in the past few seasons while residing in different divisions. Simply put, in today’s NHL, you don’t have to share a division to play a heated game.
If all goes as planned, the Penguins are trading up in a big way.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are another one of those teams who, in my estimation, won’t really feel the effects of the realignment.
Last season, the Sharks raced to 105 points while playing in the most competitive division in the NHL. They battled to the Western Conference finals and look like a team that’s closing in on their first championship.
Certainly, the addition of the Canucks as a divisional foe will bring a new dimension to their season, especially if the first round of the playoffs pits the two against each other.
But San Jose is battle-tested, and I would expect they’d give Vancouver a run for the top spot.
In regards to the rest of the divisional additions, Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado shouldn’t scare the Sharks. While the move will force San Jose to head north more often, I wouldn’t expect it to affect the team’s performance.
San Jose is an example of hockey that is thriving in a Western City, and they really don’t need the publicity or help selling tickets.
Things are changing in the NHL, but I suspect one thing we can count on is a competitive San Jose team.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues, like the aforementioned Sharks, will be virtually unaffected by the realignment.
But unlike the Sharks, it’s because the Blues will remain bottom feeders.
In the Western Conference’s Central Division, alongside Nashville, Detroit, Columbus and Chicago, the Blues are now probably the fifth-best team.
Following the move, I don’t expect things will get much easier.
In the new Midwest Division, the Blues will see some familiar faces, as well as a few new ones.
As things stand, I could see the Blues competing with all three of their new divisional foes (Dallas, Winnipeg, Minnesota), but I still see fourth place as a best-case scenario.
While the addition of Jonathan Cheechoo, Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott will help the team in the short term, it’s really St. Louis’s youth that must step up for this group to win games.
The Blues have little to speak of in terms of rivalry games, but in the eight-team format, there are a several younger teams that could provide fun matchups.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Assuming the Lightning retain the services of young Steven Stamkos, they are a team that stands to make a lot of money.
Many readers may forget that in 2004, the team from Tampa defeated the Calgary Flames to hoist the Stanley Cup. Though the series went to a dramatic seventh game, it featured two teams with limited national appeal.
Because of that, even after their improbable cup win, the team lacked a dedicated following outside Florida.
All of that changed in 2008 when the Lightning selected Steven Stamkos in the NHL entry draft.
In just 243 games, Stammer has scored 119 goals and 113 assists to put him at nearly a point per game pace at just 21 years old. The young man has proven to be one of the most effective scorers in the league, and he has the appeal to fill a building night in and night out.
The proposed Atlantic Division would feature the Panthers, Hurricanes, Flyers, Capitals, Islanders and Bruins. Players like Stamkos, Chara, Hall, St. Louis, Ovechkin, Staal and Versteeg would all square off in these divisional matchups.
The Lightning would assuredly find themselves on NBC and Versus every time the Flyers or Capitals came to town, and I can only imagine what the addition of Boston, Philadelphia and New York would do for ticket sales.
Stamkos is the type of player that deserves national attention, so adding divisional rivals in three of the largest media markets would be a huge plus for Tampa.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs, like the Boston Bruins, probably won’t be pleased with the additions to their schedule. As of now, the Maple Leafs are the fourth-best team in what many would call a soft division.
While Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo would remain divisional rivals, the reshuffling would bring the Rangers (93 pts), Devils (81 pts), Penguins (106 pts) and Red Wings (104 pts) to town.
Oddly enough, besides performance, Toronto has few problems.
They are far and away the most valuable team in the NHL; Forbes appraised the club at $505 million. Their attendance is good for home games, even in down years. And they have some of the most passionate fans in hockey.
Frankly, Toronto doesn’t need anything other than a playoff appearance, but the addition of teams like the Penguins and Red Wings could put the playoffs even further out of reach.
The pageantry of the Original Six matchups would be embraced by many, though I doubt Brian Burke would share the sentiment.
The 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks looked virtually unbeatable. They finished the season with a remarkable 54-19-9 record and a plus-77 goal differential.
Though they ended up losing the Stanley Cup Finals in seven games, this team is far from finished in my mind. With players like Alexandre Burrows, Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson and Roberto Luongo, I believe the Canucks will be contenders for the next three to four seasons.
Even so, it will be interesting to see how the Canucks handle the realignment. I expect the Canucks would gain divisional rivals in the Sharks, Kings, Ducks and Coyotes.
These teams play a much more physical game than Vancouver is used to, and it remains to be seen if the finesse based Canucks could keep up their current pace against stronger competition.
As I've said before, the new Pacific Division would be one of the most talented in the league and playing against such strong opposition could galvanize the Canucks or wear them down.
I don't believe the Canucks have much to gain from such a move.
For the Washington Capitals, it's really a case of the rich getting richer.
Last season, the Capitals won the East with 107 points and appeared to be on their way. Many believed that 2010-11 would be the year that Washington finally broke through.
Unfortunately, another disappointing postseason meant Ovie and the Caps were on the golf course in early May.
But even with that early exit, the Capitals remain one of the league's most popular teams thanks in large part to their superstar captain, Alexander Ovechkin.
While Ovechkin is enough to fill the building, GM George McPhee knows that the ultimate goal is to bring home a championship. That's why this offseason the Capitals have stayed busy re-signing Brooks Laich, and bringing in Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun.
In a matter of days, George McPhee has changed the culture of his team, and I believe they are now headed in the right direction.
As is, the Capitals will probably play on NBC at least five times next season, but imagine if realignment brought the Flyers and Bruins to town a few times a year.
The price of admission went up this offseason, but it's for good reason.
And last, but not least, we have the newly revived Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets are the reason this whole realignment began in the first place, and it seems only fitting they would be a huge benefactor from all of this.
Currently, the Jets still reside in the NHL’s Southeast Division, despite playing their home games in Canada.
Because the schedule had already been written, it seemed easier to have Winnipeg play the games that were slated for the Thrashers, with a division change following this season.
However, it will undoubtedly be difficult for Winnipeg fans to travel to road games. Similarly, fans of the Capitals, Lightning, Hurricanes or Panthers will have a daunting drive ahead of them to attend an away game against the Jets.
After the realignment, I expect the Jets, and their fans, will enjoy games against Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Nashville and Dallas.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your comments.