Houston, We're a GO for NHL Realignment Sequence

by Michael DeNicola

Thursday, March 14, 2013 --

The last time I mentioned the NHL's Board of Governors, we were discussing all the unnecessary litigation through that grueling lockout. But today, they've taken an interesting step forward after declaring they've approved the League's realignment plan proposed last week.  

If you recall, the realignment was a hot topic in the middle of the year last season, but was quickly thrown on the back-burner once Players Association's Donald Fehr and NHL's Gary Bettman went all Nero of Rome on us. Now that they're finished completely depredating every ounce of credibility from the 2012-13 League Year, all NHL officials are looking on to a better horizon. 

The realignment squeezes the League down from six divisions to a total of four -- two divisions per Conference, and we're still left with two Conferences (East / West). 

So far, these divisions haven't been christened with a name yet, and have temporarily been coined Division A, B, C and D.

Divisions A & B are located in the Western Conference. Their makeup goes as follows:

Division A:

Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

Division B:

Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. 

The Eastern Conference houses Divisions C & D. Their makeup goes as follows:

Division C:

Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Division D:

Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, Brooklyn (NYI), New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.

If you're sitting there with a befuddled look on your face, wondering why the Eastern Conference is made up of eight-team divisions versus the West's seven-team divisions, you're not alone. Not only is Philadelphia remaining in the League's toughest severance, but we're also battling against harder odds than our Western Conference counterparts. 

What do I mean? Well, let's take a gander at the Stanley Cup Playoff system....

Sixteen teams still go to the Playoffs. Each of the top three Clubs from each division automatically claims a spot in the post-season -- that's twelve spots filled right off the bat. The remaining difference is battled out by a Wild Card system; "The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It will be possible, then, for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three. 

"The seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the lowest number of points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second fewest points." [NHL.com]

It's like sitting in a calculus class all over again, overwhelmingly glaring at your TI-83 like the damn thing's speaking to you in Japanese. If your brain just cold-booted itself, no worries. You're not alone, once again. The matrix's explanation reads a lot harder than it'll actually develop. 

Let's talk regular season competition...

The new alignment ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once a season for the first time since 1997-98. [TSN.ca] So, this means we'll be seeing notable Western powerhouses like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Vancouver in our barn at least once on the schedule, and likewise. This is great for the League considering the attendance it should draw throughout the 2,460 NHL regular season games. 

According to NHL.com, each Western Conference Club will be playing 29 divisional contests, 21 non-divisional contests, and 32 non-Conference contests. Each Eastern Conference Club will be playing 30 divisional contests, 24 non-divisional contests, and 28 non-Conference contests. 

Let's welcome some newcomers...

Added to the Eastern Conference are the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets, two former (or current, however you wanna call it) Central Division teams from the Western Conference. The Winnipeg Jets finally detach themselves from the East, and join the Western Frontier. 

The Blue Jackets now become the Philadelphia Flyers divisional rivals. Let that soak in a bit. From now on, we have to hate Columbus. In any normal season I'd say I wouldn't waste my time and energy hating on the friggin' Jackets. But considering the Ford Pinto has a better performance record than the 2012-13 Philadelphia Flyers, I have room to hate everyone. At least we get to see "The Bob" on the regular.

The Hurricanes and Capitals disaffiliate themselves from that laughing stock of a division in the present NHL, and join up in our pool to face a group of thoroughbred adversaries. Welcome to hard-nosed hockey, chumps. 

Detroit Rock City slithers into Division C where they're one of four Original Six teams in the same corner of the hockey globe. It'll be pretty interesting to see how that division plays out. 

So, who's screwed?

Aside from our Flyers skating in arguably the toughest division of this realignment, Philadelphia will always remain very competitive and a Playoff caliber team.... but with maybe a sprinkle of exception here and there (COUGH). However, there are a few Clubs who jump right off the map at me, and I cannot help but consider them doomed before this experiment even gets started. 

The Florida Panthers attract about as much of a following as the movie Water World.....

....and their team's success generally pursues the same capacity. It is incredibly difficult to even fathom this organization matching up well against the likes of its annexed divisional foes. 

Tampa Bay seems to be a bubble team this season, and although they have a Cup win to their history, it'll be challenging for an organization of their "pedigree" to climb the ranks versus squads like Boston, Detroit, Ottawa (which is a team on the up-and-up) and even Toronto on a regular divisional basis.

In fact, both franchises hailing from the Sunshine State are part of a division that mostly calls its home in New England, Ontario and Quebec. Tampa and Sunrise, FL, are separated from the majority by (at the least) 1,179 miles. 

But don't mistake my analysis with me investing an ounce of personal interest in how these two bastard organizations fair in our Conference's respective division. They'll wallow in mediocrity, at best, while the Clubs that really matter continue to battle for their names on Lord Stanley.

And, finally, as TSN's reported; The alignment plan will be re-evaluated by the NHL and NHLPA following the 2015-16 season.

By then, League and Union officials should have a pretty tight grasp on the pros & cons of their adopted transformation. Analysts have said that they do not expect the League to contract in any way. In fact, they expect the opposite -- expansion may be around the corner, and could very well come to fruition through the realignment's re-evaluation. Should more Clubs get added to the National Hockey League, I'd expect the Western Conference to grow by a quantity of two. But we'll just have to wait and see how the regular season and Playoff systems play out. 

Check out The Pack on Facebook!

You can follow Michael DeNicola on Twitter: @MikeyD_OandBP

Contact The Pack here...


The Realignment Format (Short Photo.jpg