After plenty of hand wringing and consternation, after so much fan speculation and more plots than the end of the movie Clue, more promises made than in the Godfather, and more… well, you get the point… the NHL has finally voted on a scheme for realigning the league.
I’m usually not one for the instant analysis these days, which is part of why the blog has been so slow (by the time I feel like I have a solid, well thought out opinion, the moment has passed), but this time, I’m excited enough to jump into the fray. Here are the conferences (copied from Kukla’s Korner):
The Conference format:
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
First off, the conference I am most concerned with, the one the Avalanche will play in. This is looking like a truly competitive conference, with the Sharks (who have become a bit of a playoff rival) usually fielding a solid team, and LA always right on the doorstep. The Ducks have their ups and downs, but the solid core on their first line make them an interesting competitor. The wild card here is Phoenix, with their ownership issues meaning that they could move within the next season or two. If they were to move east, they could be integrated easily into either of the seven team conferences without any fuss. That, of course, would help every team in this conference (more on that in a moment).
In Conference B, the Jets, Stars and Wild join the central division teams. This helps the eastern time zone teams thanks to a new schedule format that sees each team play an away game outside of their conference only once per season, while playing conference rivals six times (three at home, three away). This seems to keep things reasonable and more balanced as far as travel is concerned.
The Southeast division is split down the middle Winnipeg moved to a more geographically obvious conference), with Washington and Carolina joining the Atlantic, and Florida and Tampa Bay joining the Northeast. Both conferences are made up of seven teams, and this is going to be significant in playoff implications, as the top four teams from each conference make the playoffs. This means that there is a better odds-on chance of making the playoffs in the two eastern conferences than the western two. But the Southeast split sent a perennially weaker team and stronger team to separate conferences (even if the Capitals haven’t won a Cup while the Hurricanes have).
The initial reaction could be that this doesn’t seem like a fair distribution of teams from a competitive viewpoint, but the point of realignment shouldn’t be about making things more competitively even. That is supposed to be the promise of the salary cap, designed to bring the almighty parity to the league. And while that hasn’t necessarily been the case, to base realignment off current rosters would be foolish indeed. Creating rivalries is as much about geography and chance as it is the players involved. Rivalries in the NHL rarely follow the player as much as the logo these days (Todd Bertuzzi being the obvious exception).
My initial thoughts on this scheme are generally positive. I like what I am seeing in the two extreme coastal conferences (A and D above), but see a few issues with the B and C.
If I were to pick a winner and loser for this realignment, I would say the Red Wings, Ducks and Kings are winners (easier travel, and a few weaker opponents to pad their points), while the main loser is the Blue Jackets. What is adding a few boring teams like the Wild and Jets to the schedule going to do for ticket sales? Nothing fast. It would be better to just cancel the home games against Minnesota, and bring in a Celine Dion impersonator. It would be more interesting.
I’m sure I will have more thoughts later. I can’t wait to see how this looks when the final point totals from this season are inevitably compared with this season’s point totals (even if they are misguided thanks to schedule adjustments). But overall, I give this a solid ‘not bad.’