The NHL announced tonight that the Board of Governors will adopt a radical realignment plan that will go into effect next season.
The stipulations of the new realignment plan are as follows:
- There will be four conferences. Two conferences will have eight teams and two others will have seven teams.
- The top four teams in each conference will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There will be intra-divisonal play in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
- There will be a balanced schedule where each team plays home-and-home games against teams outside of their conference. The rest of the games will be played within the conference.
So what does this all mean?
For one, this is a big win for mostly everyone in the NHL. The league needed realignment once the Thrashers moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg. But it wasn't just that.
Teams like the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets who were in the eastern time zone but in the Western Conference were forced to deal with tough travel schedules and having plenty of road games start at 10:30 local time. That made it very difficult for their fans to follow them when they left town.
Realignment changes that. Now, there is a whole Central Conference where the Red Wings, Blues, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, Predators, Wild, Stars, and Jets will duke it out yearly. This makes travel a whole lot lighter for those teams. The Red Wings no longer have to play two games in cities like Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, and Phoenix. Same with the Blue Jackets and other central time zone teams.
The NHL also did a great job in the way they realigned the conferences. Many rivalries were kept intact. The Flyers-Penguins rivalry will remain intact, as will the western Canadian and eastern Canadian rivalries. The Red Wings will also get nasty with the Blackhawks every year as their rivalry will continue.
We're also going to see plenty of Crosby vs. Ovechkin as the Pens and Capitals are now in the same conference starting next year. This is great for the NHL because these rivalries will trickle into the playoffs. The first two rounds are intra-conference matchups so get ready for some more Penguins-Capitals playoff matchups early on.
Possibly the strangest tweak from the realignment is seeing Florida and Tampa Bay being lumped into a conference featuring northeastern teams like Boston, Buffalo and Toronto. Florida and Tampa Bay may be having to fly more next season, but they'll be getting huge attendance boosts when they play host to teams like Montreal, Boston and Toronto which have the "snowbird" fan bases down south.
This will help put some butts into seats in Florida and Tampa Bay which have traditionally struggled with drawing fans.
Some negatives from the new realignment are that the first two rounds of the playoffs may feature some redundancy. Teams like the Penguins will be making the playoffs every year as long as Crosby's there and there's a good chance they'll be playing teams like the Rangers and Capitals almost every year.
However, this is exactly why this is a great thing for the league. It probably won't get redundant. How often do we love it when the Flyers and Penguins square off in the playoffs? Or in baseball how great is it when the Yankees and Red Sox play in the ALCS? Or how majestic is it when the Lakers and Celtics play in the Finals even though they've played numerous times in history?
Rivalries are awesome for the sport and it only means higher television ratings and revenue for the league. Also, many teams like Detroit and Columbus will be cutting travel costs because of the realignment so this only means that teams are more profitable.
Even though the playoff system hasn't been finalized, there remains the possibility that we can be seeing two traditionally Eastern Conference teams or two traditional Western Conference teams play in the Stanley Cup Finals. For instance, we could be seeing Boston be playing the Rangers or the Red Wings play the Canucks. How awesome would that be?
Good for the NHL. The league once again does something radical to not only improve the league, but also make it more entertaining for fans.