While NHL realignment was proposed last year, nothing really materialized. The league coming to a stand-still due to the lockout probably had something to do with that. Just recently the league proposed a new realignment plan, and while it is still a work in progress, the plan has many of the important details worked out. The current realignment plan is very similar to the one proposed last year. The league would go from six divisions to four which would result in a change in the playoff format. Here is a look at the proposed divisions:
|Central Division||Atlantic Division|
|Boston Bruins||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Buffalo Sabres||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Detroit Red Wings||New Jersey Devils|
|Florida Panthers||New York Islanders|
|Montreal Canadiens||New York Rangers|
|Ottawa Senators||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Washington Capitals|
|Pacific Division||Midwest Division|
|Anaheim Ducks||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Calgary Flames||Colorado Avalanche|
|Edmonton Oilers||Dallas Stars|
|Los Angeles Kings||Minnesota Wild|
|San Jose Sharks||Nashville Predators|
|Vancouver Canucks||St. Louis Blues|
|Phoenix Coyotes||Winnipeg Jets|
So what does it all mean?
The realignment solves the biggest issue of teams playing in divisions and conferences out of their time zones. The Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars come to mind. The realignment should make travel easier for teams and viewing games a better experience for fans i.e. fans of the Stars won’t have to stay up till all hours of the night to watch divisional games against Pacific Coast teams.
The scheduling and playoffs will shake out as follows:
- Each conference will send 8 teams to the post-season
- The top 3 teams in each division will qualify and two wild card spots will go to the teams with the next best record. This means you could potentially see five teams from one division and three from another. Seems pretty fair.
- The top seed will play the lowest wild card team and so on.
- Teams will play opposing conference teams twice, once at home and once on the road.
- I’ll let NHL.com explain the scheduling: “In the seven-team divisions, teams would play intraconference foes three times per season and five of the six intradivision foes five times a season. The sixth opponent within the division would be played four times. In the eight-team divisions, teams would play intraconference opponents three times and intradivision opponents either four or five times per season on a rotating basis.”
What does it all mean for the Panthers?
Florida will lose some rivalries while gaining others. The Hurricanes, Capitals and Jets will no longer be divisional rivals. Is that such a big loss? I do not really think so, none of those rivalries were/are anything spectacular mainly because Florida has been bad for so long. Also even though they will no longer be divisional foes, Florida will still play these teams three times a season, more than enough for fans to get their ‘rivalry fix’. I think that while the biggest issue fans may have with the realignment is that it will do away with some rivalries I would posit that the only legitimate gripe would be losing the Red Wings-Blackhawks matchup. With Detroit moving to the East, the teams will only play each other twice a year.
What will be lost in terms of some rivalries, will be gained by the additions of others. The powers that be wisely kept the Panthers and Lightning in the same division and it whether done consciously or not, both Florida teams are in a division with a lot of teams that have large fan bases in Florida. As much as it sucks when Canadiens or Bruins fans are louder than Panther fans, it does mean their are butts in the seat and butts in the seats mean money. Hopefully more money means an increased payroll but I’m getting ahead of myself here. For now, it is exciting to just think about the possibilities of the rivalries created by the proposed realignment.
When the plans start processing more and more towards being official, we will take a closer look at what is being gained and what is being lost by the realignment. For now feel free to share any thoughts below.