The realignment of the NHL is complete. You will see four conferences in the 2012-13 season instead of the six divisions that are currently in place.
I thought I wouldn’t like the realignment, but the more I look at it, the more I think it was a good call by the Board of Governors.
The realignment was needed because the Atlanta Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets. Having the Jets, who are northwest of Chicago, play in the Eastern Conference wasn’t going to work, so the NHL had to remake it’s divisions.
Now we can get into semantics all we want by calling them “conferences” instead of “divisions.” We also can beg the league to name the “conferences” instead of the current “Conference A,” “Conference B,” “Conference C” and “Conference D.”
But let’s put those semantics aside for a moment and focus on where the teams are now going to play, and how the league plans on making out the 82-game schedule for next season.
First, the Detroit Red Wings, who were lobbying to be moved to the Eastern Conference, didn’t quite get their wish. But they won’t have to make more than three trips out to the Mountain and Pacific time zones instead of the four they have made each year since being moved to the Western Conference.
The Red Wings will still have their current Central Division foes – Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis – in “Conference B,” and they add Winnipeg, Dallas and Minnesota to the fray. Those are the teams that make the most sense geographically, and the Wings will see those teams five times each with a rotating team getting a sixth game.
The teams in the other three “conferences” will get a home-and-home schedule with Detroit, though not the literal home-and-home where two teams play on back-to-back games in each other’s building. Just know that the other 22 teams not in the above list will come to Joe Louis Arena once each year.
The teams in the eastern-most “conferences” will play teams within their “conference” six times each.
The playoffs will still have 16 teams, though I’m not clear how they will determine which “conference” plays which other “conference” to determine the two teams to play for the Stanley Cup. Nothing I read has determined that. But the top four teams in each “conference” will make the post-season.
The only knock on the new alignment is having the western-most teams be the two eight-team “conferences” (Conferences A and B) while the eastern-most teams are the seven-team “conferences.” Why couldn’t Conference C have eight teams, taking one from Conference B?
Granted, I think I know the answer to that one. The NHL currently runs the Phoenix Coyotes, and since a local buyer can’t be found, the league will consider relocating the franchise to whoever wants to buy it. This new alignment will make it easy to put the Coyotes in a different “conference” when they eventually move.
Originally I thought the two Florida teams – the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning – got hosed because they will have to go way up north to play “conference” foes like New Jersey, both New York teams and Montreal.
But then again, who is really close to them other than the Carolina Hurricanes? Nashville, maybe, but they’re in the wrong “conference,” so the Panthers and Lightning are going to have to deal with long road trips north.
So all-in-all, I like the new alignment decided on Monday by the Board of Governors. The “conferences” look like sound decisions, and there is room for just about anything to happen in the league. Give the NHL it’s props for getting one right.
Now about those names…