When the Thrashers moved out of Atlanta to Winnipeg this past Summer, not only were the Jets re-born, but the discussion of NHL realignment became a hot topic. Because the schedule was already completed — but not announced — by the time the news broke of the move, the Jets were forced to play in the Southeast Division along with Carolina, Washington, Tampa and Florida for the 2011-12 season.
At the end of the year, the Jets will be moved to their rightful geographic location out West. But how the rest of the National Hockey League shapes out in 2012-13 is the hot discussion at this week’s Board of Governor’s meetings at Monterey, Calif.
Two re-alignment proposals are on the table this week for the NHL owners. One involves the Detroit Red Wings or the Columbus Blue Jackets moving to the Eastern Conference, while the other involves a more radical four-conference proposal that will change the league landscape.
Either way it looks like the current six division format will be a thing of the past.
Here’s an in-depth look at the two proposals beginning with the two conference system.
As you can see with the first proposal, either Detroit or Columbus will move to the East. The Red Wings brass have claimed that they have been promised a move to the East. Columbus, which also finds itself out-of-place in the West, also has a claim as does Nashville in the sun belt.
While some of the rivalries, like Bruins-Canadiens and Maple Leafs-Senators would be preserved in this four division format, the changes might come with a cost. Detroit leaving would mean fewer matchups with Original Six rivals Chicago and even if they stay out West, they would still have to travel to California and Western Canada at least a couple of times a year.
What’s more concerning to some is the breakup of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Under this proposal, the Penguins would be moved in with the Bruins, Habs, Leafs, Sens, Sabres and Wings/Blue Jackets, while the Flyers would be in a division with the four other Southeast teams along with the Devils, Islanders and Rangers preserving that the New York/New Jersey squads stay in the same division.
Since Philly chairman Ed Snider has gone on record stating that the Flyers and Penguins would stay in the same division this proposal might be a moot point. That brings us to our second proposal discussed on the Hot Stove segment during CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night.
Things would look a bit different under this proposal, eh?
Here we see a breakup of the Southeast division with Winnipeg moving to a more centralized location in the same division as Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. Tampa and Florida move with the current Northeast Division teams (Bruins, Habs, Leafs, Sens and Sabres) and Washington and Carolina move in with the Atlantic core (Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils, Isles). The remaining four Northwest (Edmonton, Colorado, Vancouver and Calgary) and Pacific teams (San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix) merge together to form the fourth and final conference.
This undoubtedly would preserve rivalries and cut travel costs. But it also gives hockey fans memories of the 1980s with the old Patrick, Smythe, Wales and Campbell conferences.
With this proposal comes playoff changes, however.
Presumably, the first proposal would keep the typical 16-team playoff — eight teams from both conference — that hockey fans have been accustomed to for nearly two decades. It would still give fans a chance to see teams like the 2006 Oilers (seeded eighth) and the 2010 Flyers (seeded seventh) to make an improbable run to Lord’s Stanley.
The second proposal however, would have the top four teams from each “conference” qualify for the playoffs much like the 80’s as matchups could easily get repetitive in the first two rounds. The “conference” winners would go on to the NHL’s version of the “Final Four” and those winners would face off in the Stanley Cup Finals. That means those who dream of a Bruins-Penguins matchup in the Cup Finals or even Red Wings-Avalanche could be one step closer to reality.
Under the second proposal, you can say goodbye to shocking upsets and Cinderella runs come playoff time.
There are pros and cons in both proposals. But either way, Commissioner Gary Bettman and company are about to embark on a new journey in the National Hockey League.