NHL Realignment: How Every NHL Team Will Be Affected in 2012-2013
The Anaheim Ducks will be fairly neutral in their evaluation of their new conference.
A struggling team, their new group is top-heavy with teams like the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks leading the fray. That said, it should make for entertaining hockey as teams will battle it out to claim the third and fourth playoff spots.
The Ducks have some good prospects in their system, and long term will only get stronger. Bruce Boudreau should have his work cut out for him over the next few seasons, but the Ducks could find themselves to be very happy in their new conference in a couple of years' time.
The Bruins, who currently play in the Northeast Division, will be very happy with their new alignment. Already a strong team. they will find themselves in a weaker division that has more playoff spots up for grabs.
Teams like the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs are still a few years away from being serious cup contenders, while teams like the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens are already in, or appear to be heading towards, serious rebuilds.
The Bruins have some very good young players both already on the roster and plying their trade in the pipeline, and with the new conference the future looks bright for the Bruins.
If they play their cards right, the Bruins could well find themselves in the final four for many years to come.
The Sabres are another team that will be pleased with their new conference. In fact, they find themselves in much the same situation as the Boston Bruins. Playing in an average division now, they will welcome some typically weak teams into the fray.
With the Lightning and Panthers joining, the Sabres will be considered one of the better teams and will be expected to compete like it. They have been a bubble team in recent seasons; now is their chance to step up and take advantage of a weaker group than before.
That said, there is no doubt those new teams are getting stronger, so the Sabres would be well-advised to make their move for a championship now.
The Flames find themselves in a new conference that is without a doubt tougher than their last one.
However, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for the Flames. Many of their players are veterans, in the twilight of their careers, and, with the exception of Sven Baertschi, the Flames' prospect pool is relatively weak.
Stronger teams mean less points. Less points mean a higher draft pick. Now is the perfect time for the Flames to head for a full rebuild, coming back in five seasons stronger than ever.
The new conference looks like it will be a forgiving one in that sense, and the Flames must take advantage. This upcoming summer will be crucial for the future of the Flames.
The Carolina Hurricanes are a team that will be very disappointed after the realignment, for the simple reason that they are now going to be part of a very strong conference, playing the likes of the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers six times a season.
Much like the Flames, this would be a good time for the Hurricanes to invest in the draft and build for the future. With only four playoff spots to go around, the 'Canes' chances look bleak, at least for the next few seasons.
Taking a step back and quietly building a forceful hockey team, much like the Caps and Pens did a few seasons ago, would be a good idea for general manager Jim Rutherford and his team.
The Chicago Blackhawks should be ecstatic with their new conference. Having played in the Central division, a weak one in recent seasons (by the 'Hawks standards), the 'Hawks will now welcome the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars.
There will be more playoff spots available, with weaker teams vying for them. While the Wild are on the rise, they are still years away from being true contenders, and the Blackhawks should enjoy a few more years of prominence alongside the Detroit Red Wings.
Over the next few seasons, there is a good chance they will reach the final four. They need to take advantage before the rebuilders catch up.
As mentioned, the Colorado Avalanche are on the rise, and it appears to be only a matter of time before they are back at the top of the NHL. They will have the opportunity to max out their potential in the next few seasons, as they find themselves in a weak conference with plenty of room for any error their youngsters might make.
The 'Avs are in a situation where they will really have the opportunity to thrive. While they were initially thought to be a few years away from being a playoff team, they will now have the opportunity to be one as soon as next season.
The Avalanche have a job on their hands over the next few seasons, but with the right moves could very well find themselves up alongside the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks at the top of the "Western Conference" sooner rather than later.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets will find themselves in no easier a situation next season. While the future is bright (especially with the expected high pick in this summer's draft), the present is far from it.
The Jackets will be at the bottom of the pile next season and will have a long road ahead of them if they want to make the playoffs. With only four spots available, the odds that they make them are next to none.
Now is the time for a rebuild, constructing a new team around Jeff Carter, Ryan Johansen, Rick Nash, and whoever joins the team in the draft. Success cannot be demanded by the fans in a conference like this—yet.
Dallas will probably be fairly neutral in its opinion of the realignment.
They may enter a conference where the general quality of their opponents is lower than their previous division, but they are one of many teams in that new conference that are currently in the latter stages of a rebuild.
The Dallas Stars will need their top prospects, guys like Jack Campbell and Jamie Oleksiak, to develop well if they want to make their mark on this "Central" conference.
The Stars will be one of the better teams in the next few seasons, but, unless they are smart in the draft, free agency and through trades, this new conference could cause them plenty of problems long term.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings will be disappointed that they didn't get to move to the East side of the NHL. The main reason they had wanted to in the first place was to play the obviously-weaker Eastern Conference teams more than the stronger Western Conference competition.
However, the Wings will be relatively pleased with the realignment, as the only real competitor in their conference, at least for now, is the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wings will likely dominate the first few seasons and could consistently become a final four team in the NHL playoffs.
From a travel standpoint, the northernmost NHL team will be upset with its realignment.
This season, the furthest they have had to travel regularly is to Colorado, for three road games. Next season, they will have to play nine road games in California and three in Arizona. Simply put, the Oilers' charter plane will be busy.
From a competition standpoint, the Oilers should be pretty satisfied. A team clearly on the rise, they join a conference that has several teams who are several years behind them in rebuilds.
The Oilers will be serious cup contenders in only a few seasons time and being in this Western conference will only serve to help their cause.
The Florida Panthers are one of the losers of realignment, in more ways than one.
Like the Oilers, they will suffer in terms of travel. Rather than being part of the cozy Southeast Division, the Panthers are now a member of a geographically split conference that will force them to play a total of 15 road games in Northeast USA and Southeast Canada.
However, unlike the Oilers, the teams the Panthers will play in those road games are stronger than the Southeast Division ones the Cats are used to. They have shown this season that they are the strongest they have been in a decade, but other teams, like the Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs have also shown that they are getting better.
That said, this conference should make for entertaining hockey and some fresh, new NHL rivalries.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings will likely be indifferent to the realignment plans and would have been with whatever was thrown at them.
They are a franchise that believe they can be the best and demand nothing but greatness from their players and staff. At the end of the day, the Kings don't care whether they play Dallas or Vancouver; they will still demand a victory.
They join a weaker conference than their old division and could finally reach their full potential. The Kings are certainly a team that will be interesting to follow when the new layout kicks in.
The Minnesota Wild are winners in every possible way. They have impressed so far this season, dominating their division and putting themselves near the top of the NHL standings.
Their task will seemingly get easier next season, as they join a top-heavy conference where they will immediately be considered one of the elite teams. The Wild should mount a challenge to Chicago and Detroit at the top, and with one of the league's strongest prospect pools, things are only going to get better for Minnesota.
While they'll have a hard time beating out the aforementioned two teams, playoff runs should now become a regular occurrence in Minnesota. All that goes without mentioning the significant drop in travel that the team will have to go through.
Even before realignment, things weren't looking good for the Canadiens. It seems that the whole Northeastern corner of the NHL map has been going through a long rebuild in the past few seasons, but the stubborn Habs have refused. Now, they will pay the price for it.
The teams in their new conference, including Tampa Bay and Florida, are all on the rise, while Montreal has shown this year that they have taken a step back.
Unfortunately, the organization, rich on history, will likely find itself at the bottom of that conference for the next few years, until it gets its own richness of talented youngsters ready to take the NHL by storm. All they have to do is follow the example of the teams around them.
The Nashville Predators will have a real test of mettle in the upcoming years, as they join a conference where they are likely to become a playoff bubble team.
Already in a strong division, the Predators will be welcoming the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars, both teams on the rise, into the fray. This is an environment where the Preds can really thrive, relishing the challenge of having to play tough teams on a regular basis.
That said, the Predators could also tank in a conference that has the potential to be very tough in a few years time. This summer will be one where the Predators will need to strengthen their team to prepare for a long and tough season ahead.
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils fans should be very excited about the 2012-13 season. While they join a very tough conference, the quality of ice hockey played will increase significantly as several teams will battle for limited playoff spots.
The Devils, who inexplicably faltered last season, appear to be in a quick rebuild, where they are focusing on young players like Adam Larsson. That will serve them well as they embark on a season that is sure to be full of ups-and-downs.
They will be in a tough conference, but look for the Devils to turn heads next season.
New York Islanders
There is a good chance the New York Islanders are a little disappointed after realignment. Having played in a very strong division in recent seasons, odds are the Islanders had hoped they would get to join some of their weaker friends from the North.
Instead, the quality of competition the Isles find themselves in will be ramped up significantly next season, as they welcome the Washington Capitals to their conference. Things are only going to get tougher for the poor Long Island-dwellers.
That said, top prospects in the system are a sign of things to come. The Islanders are an up-and-coming team, and the Caps, Devils, Flyers, Penguins and Rangers should definitely watch their backs.
New York Rangers
Another member of the traditionally-strong Atlantic division, the New York Rangers will join the Devils and Islanders in the geographically-compact Eastern conference.
The challenge will obviously be great, with an increased competition after the incorporation of the Capitals, but the Rangers have proven their worth this year. They are without a doubt one of the four strongest teams in that conference, and playoff success should be achievable for the Rangers.
They are strong in defense, a trait that should help propel them to the final four when matched up against the offensively-gifted teams they will find themselves playing.
The Ottawa Senators will be delighted with their position after realignment. A team that is deep in a rebuild and has one of the strongest prospect pools in the league, the Senators will be able to quietly build a force while competing with teams like Florida, Toronto and Montreal for playoff spots.
Soon enough, the Senators are going be a cup contender, and the fact that they find themselves in a conference where they can really dominate doesn't hurt.
Look for the Ottawa Senators to break out big time in the next few seasons and make their return to the Stanley Cup finals sooner rather than later.
Like the Rangers, the Flyers move from the Atlantic Division to a geographically-similar East coast conference. Unlike the Rangers, any potential reign at the top of that new conference that the Flyers might have is likely to be short-lived.
The Flyers have, on average, one of the oldest teams in the NHL, but unlike most of the teams they keep company with, the pipeline is not strong. Sean Couturier, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn are the only top prospects in the system. That does not bode well for the future in Philly.
They would be well advised to win now or put more of an effort into increasing their number of high-round draft picks.
Regardless of where they would be put, realignment was never going to have a big effect on the Phoenix Coyotes. The team is headed for a move out of Glendale, with the destination still unclear.
For now, the Coyotes have been placed in an unforgiving conference, where the team is several years behind most of the other teams in terms of development and proximity to being a cup contender.
Fortunately for the team, there is a good chance they are never forced to play in that conference. Is a move to Quebec City on the horizon?
The Pittsburgh Penguins have once again shown this season that they are only getting better. That resolve will be tested next season in the strong Eastern conference.
Reaching the playoffs will still be a given for the Pennsylvania franchise, but getting further than that will now be a challenge as the Penguins will have to fight off the likes of the Capitals and Rangers to reach the final four.
Penguins fans might be disappointed more often than not, but it sure will make for great, entertaining hockey.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are another team that will likely be happy with the changes bestowed upon them.
An organization used to regular-season success that has never quite managed to make it in the playoffs will undoubtedly benefit from the new format, as they will be playing the weaker inter-conference teams before taking on the rest of the NHL in the postseason.
That said, the Sharks have the weakest group of prospects in the NHL, and with some of the up-and-coming in their conference the future could be tumultuous.
The Sharks could well be a final four team next season; then will be the perfect time for them to finally bring home the elusive Stanley Cup.
St Louis Blues
The St Louis Blues will be indifferent to the changes. Already in a pretty tough division, the Blues welcome the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild. In other words, the difficulty will pretty much stay the same for Ken Hitchcock's men.
The only area where the moves will really affect the Blues is in the playoff format. You ask yourself whether or not the Blues are one of the top four teams in a conference that includes the Blackhawks and the Red Wings.
There is little doubt the Blues have a job on their hands here; there is also little doubt that if they play like they have under Hitchcock, then next season they will cruise into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the hardest teams in the league to read. Last season, they were one of the biggest surprises as they surged all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. This year, they have been one of the biggest disappointments, having dropped into the league's bottom five.
Thus, it is difficult to make an evaluation about how they will be affected by the realignment. There is no doubt they are joining a significantly tougher conference than the old Southeast division, but with the new playoff format the Lightning could well find themselves a perennial final four contender.
With Tampa Bay, we'll just have to wait and see.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Burke and his Toronto Maple Leafs will be delighted with their new conference. Essentially, they are now in a weaker group of teams, but the percentage chance of reaching the playoffs is significantly greater.
Furthermore, with many of the teams in rebuilds, the Maple Leafs should enjoy a number of years in domination within their conference.
It seems the success Leafs fans have been craving for so long is on the horizon. This upcoming summer will be a pivotal one for Burke and his management team.
Vancouver is one team that will be disappointed with the realignment. For the Canucks, winning the division has been a given in recent seasons.
Now, in a significantly tougher division, the Canucks will actually have to push themselves in the regular season rather than just cruise through. That could benefit them, as they'll enter the playoffs in their stride.
On the other hand, they could enter them exhausted. Look for a Vancouver vs. San Jose rivalry to spark up as the two powerhouses in the Western conference will annually battle for a final-four berth.
The Washington Capitals have become famous in recent seasons for their playoff struggles. The new format won't make it any easier.
The Capitals are still one of the better teams in their conference but will now face more of a challenge up to and in the playoffs.
That said, Capitals brass must be excited about the chance to rekindle the rivalries with some of their old Patrick Division foes. The Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby duel will be taken to a whole new level, while the tension with the Flyers might finally escalate into something greater than just fiercely-contested games.
Whatever the case, the Capitals will be an exciting team to follow next season.
Honestly, I think the Winnipeg Jets will be pleased with just the reduced travel. This season, the closest division opponent is 1,246 miles away. Next season, the farthest away is 1,181 miles.
In terms of competition, the Jets are, alongside Columbus, the worst team in their conference. Cup contention is still a long way down the road for the Manitoba team, but with a corps built around Zach Bogosian, Toby Enström, Alex Burmistrov, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and whoever the high pick in 2012 turns out to be, the future looks bright.
The Jets need to be patient and bide their time. This is an unpredictable conference. There is a good chance they get lucky somewhere in the future.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95
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