The league that thrives on change made another huge one on Monday night.
The NHL Board of Governors has decided to realign into a four-conference system. The conferences have yet to be named and are more or less organized by geographic region.
Any drastic changes in sports, or life for that matter, come with a lot of questions and concerns. On the surface though, this seems to make a lot of sense.
The larger question is, does this make sense for everyone? Who does this affect the most positively or negatively?
Where this is positive is for hockey fans that revered the sport in the 80s and 90s. It brings back the days of the Campbell and Wales conferences.
You will see similar rivalries renewed. Some are the rivalries of the old Smythe, Norris, Adams and Patrick Divisions.
In “Conference C” the rivalries with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will continue to be epic.
In “Conference B,” the battle of Alberta with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will be stronger than ever. The Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks will also continue to be well acquainted.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings will stay old friends. Now with the Minnesota franchise in the same conference, it can bring back some glory days of Norris Division playoff battles involving Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis.
The New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will also have their hands full with each other.
Where this system also benefits teams is during playoff time. The one- and four-seed teams will have seen each other enough during the year where records will be less relevant and blood will boil. Hate between clubs and cities will be back again and there will be plenty of willing fans to take road trips into enemy territory.
Having a home-and-home format with other conferences is also great as you get one shot to see every team in your own building every season.
Are any teams losers in this scenario?
Originally the Detroit Red Wings had a beef with the NHL and how far they have to travel in the Western Conference. This issue seems to be resolved in the new format.
The only real teams that may struggle with the realignment are the Florida teams. Both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning do have significant in-conference flights to Montreal, Toronto and Boston.
One solution could have been to put as many teams near the Mason Dixon Line in the same conference. Teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, the Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars and the Florida clubs may have benefited from all being in the same conference.
But what three teams could join them? Perhaps the Blues, Hawks and the Wings. Then you could realign the rest of the east, including Columbus and Minnesota.
This would be a better travel option for southern teams, but then Minnesota would have a tough time finding an adequate and fair conference to travel in. Plus, what would you do with Winnipeg? A nine team conference in the West would make little sense.
That’s how it goes when you decide to put two hockey teams in Florida.
All in all, the NHL performed admirably with this shift and it will create new excitement for the league.
It will restore and preserve old rivalries and create new ones with the improved in-conference playoff format.
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