It was announced today that the NHL Board of Governors has approved the new realignment plan for the league, effective next season. Both the NHL and the NHLPA had input in the new design, which was considered to be fairly radical just one year ago.
The new realignment structure features two conferences, with a total of four divisions. Though they have yet to be given permanent names, the divisions are as follows:
- A: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
- B: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
- C: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
- D: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
This redesign aims to align the teams more appropriately from a geographic standpoint, although the Eastern Conference had a good mind to maintain divisional rivalries as they currently stand.
Among the bigger changes in this new setup, the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets have been shipped over to the Eastern Conference, allowing them to
be able to play conference matchups within their own time zone. Detroit joins a division that already boasts three of the league’s Original Six teams, and is free to restore their historic rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, this will also hamper their present Original Six divisional rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The team that triggered the necessity for realignment, the Winnipeg Jets, will finally land in the Western Conference. There will be no loss of divisional rivalry for this current Southeast Division squad, and many are hoping that a geographic abhorrence will be able to grow from playing against the Minnesota Wild four or five times each season.
As was the concern of many fanbases, each team will now play at least once in every building in the NHL. Though the schedule will remain stacked in terms of playing more games within your own conference and the most games within your own division, each set of non-conference opponents will match up against each other both home and away.
Whether due to travel or tradition, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin with a team’s own division. The playoffs will still consist of sixteen teams, but there will be the introduction of a wild-card system for determining the final playoff entries.
Each of the top three teams in each division will be assured of a playoff spot within their own division, occupying the top three seeds in their respective bracket. The vacant fourth seeds will be determined by the next two teams that finish with the most points in each conference, regardless of division. This means that one division in the conference could send five teams to the playoffs in a given season, though no division can send less than three.
As far as this realignment goes, there was no magical solution for drawing up the perfect plan that would make everyone happy. Western Conference owners may be disappointed to lose the gate fees that accompany the attraction of Detroit coming to town, while many Eastern Conference players have already expressed an objection to their divisions being stacked eight teams high to the West’s seven.
Still, the league did an excellent job with this realignment, solving more discrepancies within the current alignment than deterrents they created. Aside from the overarching separation of Detroit and Chicago, the new divisions have managed to maintain the majority of the league’s rivalries, while promoting a playoff system aimed at seeing these rivalries develop and mature.
The playoff system is perhaps the most exciting part of this approved arrangement. Not only will playing out of one’s own division produce a familiarity that is sure to breed contempt, but having wild-card teams with the ability to cross over into another division’s playoff bracket will help to combat any concerns that too much familiarity would potentially produce a stale playoff matchup, if there is such a thing. Furthermore, the wild-card team crossing over can still win its way out of the other division, thereby setting up a showdown with a divisional rival to see who wins the conference.
The NHLPA has consented to this realignment and new playoff system for a minimum of three seasons, at least through 2015-16, at which point the system will be reassessed. For more on this new realignment, see: NHL Realignment II: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly