NHL Realignment It Is, History Its Not

The Board of Governors have approved a realignment plan for the NHL.  Gone are the days of the two conference, six division system.  For the full scoop on the new alignment, check out the article on NHL.com that broke the news.  The new alignment which puts the Buffalo Sabres in the same “conference” as the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning.  So, pretty much the Northeast Division has been expanded to include the Florida clubs from the Southeast.

Change is always difficult to digest, and fans are always on both sides of the fence when the NHL decides to relocate, refocus, expand, or manipulate the game that is beloved by many.  The NHL is touting this realignment as a big picture development that is in the best interest of all teams of the league.  There are some pro’s and con’s to this new setup.

My first thought, literally, my first thought when I looked at this was, well, now we’re at four conferences in the league, with two conference championship trophies.  The argument goes away if “Conference C” and “Conference D” always play each other for the right to go to the Finals, as they are all traditionally eastern conference teams, same goes for “A” and “B” for the West.  But if every year you are going to reseed based on standings, how do you determine who is going to play for what conference championship.  I know we don’t plan our seasons around winning the conference championship, and no captain will usually even touch the conference trophy because of the stigma attached to it, but come on…you have to win the conference championship in order to lift the Stanley Cup.  Solution: A always plays B, and C always plays D in the final four, given you two “champions” to play for the Stanley Cup.  Or you could always just water down the worth of the hardware and cramp the HHOF with two more conference trophies.  If you do add two new pieces of hardware…who gets the historic ones and who gets the new ones?

Second thought – names.  Are we going to be stuck with geographical names again or are we going to go back to what made the NHL great?  If they name the “conferences” after time zones, I will give up.  Not literally, but figuratively.

Balanced schedule.  Ok, so the league gets a gold star on this one – if they make it work properly.  If Buffalo plays a home and home against Detroit in the early parts of the season, it doesn’t do me much good if we face them in the playoffs.  I would like to see the schedule spread them out a bit, maybe see one game in the first half of the season, and at least ten games if possible between a rematch.

How long is it going to be before someone says its harder (or easier) to get into the playoffs based on if your in a seven or eight team conference.  Can we smell expansion?  Given the new setup the league is opening the door to adding room on the slate for two more teams, evening out the conferences.  It also allows for the fluid movement of teams more than the current system, for relocation issues.

Does the new system make it easier for a team that maybe wouldn’t have won a Stanley Cup in the earlier formats?  It seems with the new style that the league is interjected even more opportunities for Cinderella teams to capitalize, but at the same time makes it easier to get into the playoffs.  The top four teams in each conference make the playoffs.   Under the new format, Boston, Buffalo, Toronto and Florida make the playoffs (if the season were to end now – and yes the Sabres would have made the playoffs last year as the last place team in the “conference”, and would have faced eventual Stanley Cup winner Boston in the first round.

How will the realignment effect trades.  Some teams prefer to only deal with teams they won’t face as often.  Does this open up the trade market because the balanced schedule has returned, or have we gotten to the point where trades are going to diminish even more because there is more likely hood of facing the teams you just traded your blue chip prospect to try and get tougher?

There is much more to learn in the coming off season about how the NHL will shake out the new alignment.  We all knew it was coming, and here it is.   Hold on tight folks, it might just be a bumpy ride.

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