In the league’s most recent realignment proposal, the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets would be expected to join the Eastern Conference as early as next season. The proposal keeps the two-conference system intact but it changes to a four-division format as opposed to the current six-division format already in place.
The need for realignment has been a hot topic in the NHL since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, and are now seemingly “out of place” in the Eastern Conference.
In the new realignment, the Detroit Red Wings would join the Buffalo Sabres in the Central Division along with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators.
The Blue Jackets would join the Atlantic Division with the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers.
Winnipeg would merge into the Midwest Division in the Western Conference with the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. The Pacific would be made up of the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers.
The realignment proposal makes total sense from a geographical standpoint. The Red Wings and the Blue Jackets would have the majority of their season taking place in the eastern time zone where they rightfully belong. Red Wings fans are also excited to see the rivalry between Detroit and Toronto take new form with both teams playing in the same division. I’m sure Detroit and Columbus fans are much happier with the idea of not having to stay up late for several west coast games taking place at 10:00 and 10:30 pm EST throughout the season.
The current proposal isn’t exactly perfect though, and the biggest flaw is the imbalance between both conferences. The Eastern Conference would be made up of two-eight team divisions while the West would only have two-seven team divisions. Clearly this presents an issue with the overall format of the realignment.
I think the biggest loss in this situation is the rivalry between the Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. Detroit relocating to the Eastern Conference means the Hawks will no longer be in the same division as the Wings and the two teams will only meet a few times throughout the regular season. The West losing Detroit is also a big hit economically because of the increased appeal in games against the Red Wings which are always known to fill the stands for all Western Conference teams.
What does this mean for Buffalo?
Obviously a much tougher schedule going forward having to play the Red Wings in several games each season. Also, come playoff time, having to outlast the Red Wings in the postseason is no easy feat. And with two extra teams in the East, the mathematical advantage is in favor of Western Conference teams to make the playoffs (making it that much tougher for Buffalo). Even with the proposed wild card playoff format to make it “fair”, there’s still a mathematical advantage towards the conference with less teams fighting for postseason spots. The controversy with the uneven conferences and the playoff situation is the biggest issue with NHLPA going forward while the deal is still in the works.
Maybe the realignment means a potential expansion within the NHL in the near future, bringing it up to 32 teams?
With the current realignment proposal becoming a likely scenario for the NHL next season, what are your thoughts on the whole ordeal? Leave your comments below.