A year ago (Happy 1 year Birthday Sports Hate Me!) I wrote a piece about how the NHL should realign their current conference structure (found here: Realigning Hockey). Putting it briefly, it outlined that the NHL doesn't really need divisions when the NHL postseason is determined by conference standings. Last night, the National Hockey League's BOG of governors proposed, and member teams voted 26 in favor, and four in disapproval, a realignment plan that is absolutely nothing like the one I drew up 13 months ago.
This isn't to say that I'm not pleased with the new alignment. Staying in the old system could've proven a death penalty for a struggling franchise in Columbus whose position in the strong Western Conference has been a huge obstacle.
|2/15's of the obstacle|
When realignment discussions began last year, we were all concerned the league would do the impractical thing and appease Detroit at the expense of the Blue Jackets by sending them to the Eastern Conference to take Atlanta's place. Thankfully this didn't happen and a more fair compromise appears to have been struck.
The new system will level the playing field in terms of travel, will bring every NHL team to Columbus at least once a year, will spice up the already fantastic playoffs by guaranteeing playoff rivalry matchups, and will greatly reduce the number of games played in the western time zone.
Here's how the new setup will work:
- Instead of two conferences with three divisions of five teams, we now have four conferences, two with 8 teams and two of seven teams.
- The top 4 in each conference will make the postseason. The first two rounds will be played within each team's conference. The #1 seed plays the #4 seed, the #2 seed will play the #3 seed, and the winners will meet in the second round for the conference championship. After the second round the final four teams will be reseeded based on regular season records.
- In addition to shuffling the divisional lineups, the schedule also underwent a complete overhaul. This alignment plan allows for a balanced slate. The new schedule has every team playing every other team at least twice every year, once at home and once on the road. This means that every NHL team will play in every NHL city every year. This isn't the case right now - Pittsburgh, for example, won't visit Columbus this year.
- In the seven-team Conferences, teams would play six times -- three home, three away -- for a total of 36 inter-division games. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis -- for a total of 38 inter-division games.
- The teams in the seven-team Conferences will have 46 out-of-conference games, including 23 at home and 23 on the road. The teams in the eight-team Conferences will have 44 out-of-conference games evenly split between home and away.
In the end, this will make things more fair than it is now. In past years worse teams have beaten out stronger teams for the playoffs by virtue of playing in a weak division. That can't happen in the new system.
- The new conferences will shake down like this:
CONFERENCE A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
CONFERENCE B: Chicago, COLUMBUS, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
CONFERENCE C: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
CONFERENCE D: Carolina, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
- other than the curious pairing of Tampa/Florida with their five Northeastern conference mates, that's a solid compromise for everyone. Rivalries were maintained and geography was a top priority in forming the new conferences. The Central division remained completely intact and added 2 great hockey cities in Winnipeg and St. Paul/Minneapolis. They also added Dallas, which has proven themselves as a hockey supportive city in times of success.
3 Reasons this is Great for the Blue Jackets
- Less travel.
The current schedule means the Blue Jackets have two swings to Western Canada to play in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. And two swings to California to play in Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. The new schedule cuts the number of trips in half, which also cuts travel expenses to Western Canada and California in half.
Less travel is also easier on a hockey team and the Blue Jackets, currently the Eastern-most team in the Western Conference, were traveling more than any other NHL club, a tremendous competitive disadvantage.
Speaking of competitive disadvantages, the home-and-home series mean the teams in the Eastern Conference will actually have to travel more than they currently do, which evens things up with their brothers in the midwest.
- Making the playoffs will be easier.
The Blue Jackets have had to deal with a strong Western Conference ever since joining the NHL in 2000, only cracking the top 8 once. In the new system their chances of reaching the playoffs actually dropped to a nice, round 50%. That said, beating out Minnesota, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Dallas, and Nashville for one of the two last spots (We're gonna go ahead and pencil in Chicago and Detroit for the #1 and #2 seeds for the rest of forever) seems far less daunting than beating out 11 other teams for the final 4 spots in the West. It won't be "easy", but it won't be nearly as hard as it currently is.
Bonus: Now I finally have a reason to hate Winnipeg, Manitoba. Did I say Winnipeg? I meant Loserpeg! FOLKS!
- Every team will play in Columbus every year.
One, this means that the superstars in the NHL will be at Nationwide Arena at least once every year. That means Ovechkin, Stamkos, Crosby, Seguin, Kessell, the Stalls, Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, etc will get to be seen by central Ohio hockey fans.
Two, and I hate to say it, but being invaded by Penguins fans once a year is good for the Blue Jackets' wallets. The game last year when we were outnumbered by Pittsburghers was the most embarrassed I've been as a Blue Jackets fan (and that's saying something! huyuck), but it was a sell-out. It's good for the city if fans from other cities come to the games, spend money on tickets, spend money on hotels, in restaurants, bars, and stores.
With Columbus being the centrally located city it is, and with its population boom, it is easy to get to and is home to many displaced and relocated hockey fans who can now be guaranteed that they'll get to see their team live once a year. It can only be good for Columbus and the Blue Jackets if more teams come through Nationwide Arena every year.
There's no perfect solution, but this is a solid compromise that appeases the teams who suffered under the current alignment and doesn't do much to alienate the beneficiaries of the old model. It's no Sean McCarthy plan (*winking emoticon*), but it looks like it will be the system the league operates under for years to come, and I'm more than okay with that.