Take a good look folks, this is the new look of the NHL. Like a lot of people, I started discussing how the realignment would shape up as soon as the Thrasher’s move to Winnipeg was made official, but this was hardly what my friends and I thought was going to happen. I had a lot of questions when I started writing this that wound up being answered in the process (thank Lord Stanley I get to leave NHLN on at my work’s lobby all day), so now it all makes a bit more sense.
What does this mean for Sharks fans?
In a way it sends the team back to its roots. When the team started in the 91-92 season, the Smythe Division was much of the same teams that the yet unnamed “Conference A”, the exceptions being the Jets moved and are now in “Conf. B”, with the Ducks, Coyotes and Avalanche added in. Yes, we’ll be losing the Stars and Red Wings rivalries in the sense that they’re conference rivals, but I believe the history we share will not diminish the intensity of these matches. Speaking of the pre-92 realignment divisions, I wouldn’t be surprised if those names returned as the new conference names.
What about the new schedule?
More inter-conference games. A lot more. Right now we see our direct competition only 24 times throughout the regular season, as of next season that will shoot up to 38. This means more big games, tough battles, more action! With the remaining 44 games, we will face the other 22 teams twice each, once at home and once away. Both the realignment and the schedule setup favor the western teams. The sharks will have 60 of their 82 games with at most 1 hour time difference, and only having to travel as far east as Denver. Huge success!
Was such a radical shift necessary?
In a word, yes. I’ve been steadfast in thinking that the only thing that needed to happen to fix the current problem caused by the Jets’ move was simply to move them to the Northwest Division, the Wild into the Central, and Columbus over to the Southeast. While solving the problem at hand, it would not provide a way to handle future franchise relocations, other than realigning two or more divisions. The new realignment, however, uses the larger and staggered conference sizes to easily shift a team’s alignment if they move. For example, let’s take the very real possibility that the Coyotes are sold next year and move to Québec; all this would require in terms of alignment, is the franchise to be dropped from Conf. A and added into Conf. C. Adjust the schedules and voilà, problem solved with only one shift.
What is going to happen with the Playoffs and All-Star Game?
Amazingly the All-Star Game will be completely unaffected by all of this, the draft system instituted last year saw to that. The Playoffs on the other hand, seems to be the one thing still up on the air. The first two rounds are set, where the top four teams in each conference play each other (1v4, 2v3) in a two round elimination to determine the top team for each. The exact proceedings of how the semifinal and final will run is what still needs to be decided. What is unlikely to happen is a traditional East v West, because this would frankly defeat the purpose of no longer having those conferences. What is more likely is to reseed the teams by points and proceed as they did for the first two rounds. I heard someone (on NHLN) mention a round-robin tournament, but this is extremely unlikely to happen. Then again, not a whole lot of people saw this realignment coming so anything is possible.
Now for the elephant in the room: Florida. This seems to be the one thing that Bettman hasn’t addressed (as much as I’ve seen), and in truth it needs a lot of explanation. If a major part of this realignment was to minimize the amount of long travel required by teams, for the majority of their season, then why is there a gap of over 1200 miles smack dab in the middle of Conf. C? Especially when there’s an entire other Conference in said distance. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the Islanders and Rangers in Conf. C, and the Florida teams in Conf. D? I can’t imagine the rivalries between the New York teams and the rest of Conf. D are so strong that the NHL couldn’t let them face each other only twice a year. Jamie Baker had a good quip about it before last night’s game, suggesting that the Lightning and Panthers play the first half of the season away until the Northeast freezes over, then play the rest of the season at home in warmer Florida. Whatever the reasoning is, I’m sure it will make sense when the league decides to fill the rest of us in, since it made enough sense for a vast majority of the Board of Governors to approve. It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, other changes come through the rest of the season.
Addendum: Something that occurred to me after posting this article, which ties into the fact that every team sees each other twice per season. This means that if you are a season ticket holder, or such person who is willing to make the time and spend the money, you can see the Sharks play every NHL team on home ice. Alternatively, if like me you have the want to see the Sharks play in every arena in the NHL, that is now possible as well in the span of a single season. If my managers are reading this, I need a raise.