While the Florida Panthers were in the process of widening their lead over their current division rival the Washington Capitals, the NHL Board of Governors were voting on approving a new conference system that would begin next season. The two conference system that’s currently in place with four divisions, will be replaced by four conferences with the intent of building rivalries within each conference. By a vote of 26-4 the new format, which still needs to be approved by the NHLPA, will now guarantee that each team visits each NHL city at least once throughout the year. Meaning everyone gets to see Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews in their building at least once a season.
The inner conference games will make up 36 games on the schedule, and the remaining 46 will be home and home games against the rest of the league. The plans to realign had been in the works recently especially with the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, which has caused the most concern since they are no longer anywhere near their current Southeast division rivals.
How will and does the affect the Florida Panthers? From my vantage point I love the fact that the Panthers will get to play three original six teams, six times a year, three of which will be in the Bank Atlantic Center. Having to face Boston, Montreal and Toronto six times will also give the Panthers more visibility up North and bring them more noteriety throughout the NHL. Yes, the travel component of this could be an issue as we will essentially fly over a conference completely, however I’ve personally seen enough of Carolina, Pittsburgh, as well as the Rangers in recent years to welcome the new set up. Puck Daddy talks about the winners and losers in this battle.
Additionally the fact that there are three Canadian teams in the Panthers division will certainly increase the chances of the Bank Atlantic Center being filled to capacity more often than not, even if it’s with snowbirds. On top of that I would expect that the Panthers will get some added broadcasts on Hockey Night in Canada which occur on Saturday nights when playing the Canadian clubs.
The talk has continually been about the new conferences being set up due to geography, but in reality when looking at the setup, you can see with your own two eyes that it’s based on time zones. If geography were the main factor, then Detroit and Nashville might find themselves in the East, and Florida and Tampa would not be in the same conference with teams as far north. Maintaining certain rivalries were also part of the equation, as Chicago-Detroit, Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, the New York Rangers-New York Islanders, Vancouver-Calgary battles were all kept together. Obviously keeping the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning together makes sense since both teams are in the same state…. I still have no problem with the proposed set up.
The NHL feels that by reformatting the teams, and having the conferences set up the way they are, that scheduling will become easier, and they’ll be able to minimize the travel that some teams are concerned about. It’s expected that we’ll see more four and five game road trips for every team, however we’ll see less of the two games at home three on the road, one at home three on the road nonsense that the Panthers and other teams are subjected to.
While the NHLPA needs to vote as well, and it’s virtually assured that the players will pass this setup, it will be interesting to see how the conferences will be named. Surely we can do better than a North, South, Central, and Pacific heading. I hope that the NHL can get somewhat creative in their names. Maybe not as creative as what Paul Bissonette is suggesting, but you get the idea.
While the playoff format still needs some tweaking, there’s a question of the point system and if that wuill need to be changed. It’s quite possible that a team with less points in one conference makes the playoffs, while a team in another conference with more points misses the playoffs. As Joe Yerdon discusses in his column at Pro Hockey Talk, just winning more games isn’t the simple answer.
It’s obvious that there will be sides that are opposed to various issues here, but from my perspective here as both a Florida Panther and Chicago Blackhawk follower, I like the new setup. It maintains some old time rivalries and helps to solidify some new ones. Gord Miller from TSN tweeted earlier that a study from the University of Florida indicated that almost one million snowbirds come to Florida, staying on average five months. After seeing that statistic, I’m a firm believer that this does make sense.
Think about this Panther fans: A Winter Classic between the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadians! Now that would be great for the Panthers.
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