When the Atlanta Thrashers packed their bags and became the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL knew they had to make changes. Realignment became a necessity and the process wasn’t going to be easy. That was proven in late 2011, when the players rejected the owners proposal for realignment, thus striking the first blow in what eventually led to the lockout.
Now the issue has been raised yet again. The latest realignment proposal as reported by Elliotte Friedman of CBC, is a drastic change from how the current divisions look today. Instead of six divisions, the NHL has proposed four conferences. Atlantic, Central, Midwest and Pacific. Here’s what’s good and what’s not so good about this proposal.
The Jets are in a division in their own time zone. It never looked right to see Winnipeg in the same division with Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Washington. Believe me, I’ve lived in Manitoba for most of my life and we’re anything but southeast. The Jets will have natural geographical rivals Minnesota and Chicago in their conference which could start new rivalries which is lacking right now, as the Jets continue play in the Southeast.
Detroit and Columbus go east. The Red Wings have been longing to play in the Eastern time zone for a number of years. Detroit also gets to renew their rivalries with Original Six counterparts Montreal and Toronto. Many forget that the Red Wings and Canadiens had a fierce rivalry in the 1950s. Columbus has never been comfortable in the west, so they are hoping a move the eastern ledger can improve their fortunes as well as their travel.
Divisional play will be more focused. In the 1980s, divisional play meant everything. Games within the old Smythe, Norris, Adams and Patrick divisions produced some of the most memorable hockey ever played. Divisional games were intense, hard-fought affairs that gave way to some of the best rivalries in the sport. With this realignment proposal, divisional play will once again become paramount to a team’s success.
The Not So Good:
The imbalance of the conferences. 16 teams in the East, 14 teams in the West. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out the numbers don’t add up. This immediately makes me think that expansion is on the horizon. All that expansion does is further dilute the product. And where will the NHL expand to? Seattle is a likely destination. After that it’ uncertain. My guess is Kansas City, as they can play in the West and have a new state of the art arena with no tenant. But that’s another debate for another time. If the NHL doesn’t expand, then the Western teams have an unfair advantage in making the playoffs. Eastern teams have a right to be upset.
The playoff format is terrible. I’m not a fan of the wildcard system in the NHL. I do like wildcards in the NFL and Major League Baseball, but not in hockey. The format itself will get some time to get used to, and maybe I’ll warm up to it. But I don’t see the advantage of Chicago possibly playing Anaheim or Los Angeles in the first round, while trying to promote divisional play. They might as well stick to the current playoff format if that’s the case.
This one is personal but, I wish the Jets were in the same division as Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. I would love to see the four Western Canadian teams in the same division. It would reignite the old Smythe Division feuds, as well as give Western Canada something to talk about. However, I understand the travel constraints would hurt the teams, as there is a two-hour time difference between Winnipeg and Vancouver. Still, it would be fun to see the old Smythe division reunite.
The Southeast division gets screwed. With the exception of Winnipeg, the other teams in the Southeast will have to travel more, and face a much tougher schedule in making the playoffs. Florida and Tampa Bay would be in a division with Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Boston and Buffalo. That will make for long road trips to northern climates. Carolina and Washington don’t have it quite so bad, but fewer trips to Florida while more trips to the Northeast, could prove to be troublesome.
One last note. The NHLPA still have to approve realignment before the governors can put the rubber stamp on it. So there still could be some changes, or a dramatic new proposal could still be put forth. Stay tuned.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973