NHL Realignment the 2013 UK Perspective
The issue of realignment in the NHL is a tricky one. It is one that divides as many people as it pleases and for that reason it was one of the things that was rather missing from the latest CBA. Now though it is back on the agenda as the latest report into realignment emerged containing an almost full-fledged idea.
Under this proposal the 6 divisions and 2 conferences would go and in their place returns the 4-conference/-division idea that was muted before the lock out. The proposal suggests the following:
Toronto Maple Leafs
Detroit Red Wings
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
New Jersey Devils
Columbus Blue Jackets
St Louis Blues
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
In many ways it is a good plan. Detroit gets to be placed back with Toronto, which they have campaigned for for many years. Winnipeg gets to be out of the southeast division, which they have played in since moving from Atlanta. Most teams such as Detroit, Dallas and Columbus will also now get to play more in their own time zone more often.
It is likely too that playoffs would change. Teams would first play their conference rivals before advancing to the semi finals against other conference winners. This would create more intense rivalries as close neighbours meet more often and rivalries have clearly been paid attention too.
Rivalries such as Penguins and Flyers, Bruins and Canadiens, Kings and Ducks all remain whilst the Detroit â€“ Toronto divisional match up is back.
But not all will be happy. The Blackhawks will lose the original six rivalry with the Red Wings and the Avalanche no longer has the Canucks for heated company. Not happy also will be the Florida teams. Tampa Bay and Florida will have to leap over another conference to play their conference rivals in a decision that seems to have been based around keeping the Penguins and Capitals together in order to please NBC. The Panthers will also be unhappy at being placed with some powerhouse teams such as the Red Wings, Bruins and Canadiens in an 8 team conference making it harder for them to make the playoffs than it would be in the 7 team conference.
The imbalance however is necessary. Teams cannot continue to criss cross time zones to play a match with a rival and 30 does not go into 4. Although 32 does. A 32 team NHL would fit nicely into this plan and there are cities ready to join the group. Although with this latest plan the likely cities to expand too would mean another rearrangement of the conferences. For instance Seattle is probably best placed at the moment to be granted the next franchise which is fine as the west coast has a 7 team conference however Quebec is hot on the heels of an NHL team and the east coast is an 8 team conference.
All in all it is a good system that will please most. The reduction in travel and the number of time zones will certainly please all the players but perhaps we will see some movement in the position of teams between the conference before a deal is struck.
It is something the UKâ€™s Elite League should be looking at closely. The switch to conferences in the EIHL has produced rivalries and increased intensity in those games. If the league wants to take those rivalries to the next level it should watch how the NHL handles realignment and in particular the playoff groupings.