The NHL's new realignment plan mixes up divisions in the name of travel equity. What are the unintended side-effects?
It's been known since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets that the NHL has to realign. The Jets have a terrible travel schedule, and there is no way that they can remain in the Southeast Division. Quite frankly, they need to move to the Western Conference where the travel will be more appropriate for them -- the big question is, though, who moves East?
Elliotte Friedman broke the whole thing down on HNIC:
The Detroit Red Wings have been demanding a move to the Eastern Conference since the Thrashers' relocation, and it stands to reason. Travel will be better on the franchise, and fans won't have to stay up until ungodly hours watching games. The Columbus Blue Jackets, also, are at a detriment due to the time zone. Both teams could benefit from new on-ice matchups, especially Columbus, who will be getting big draws now with not only the Red Wings but also the PIttsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs, to name a few. As any eastern media syndicate will tell you, the Eastern Conference has some serious teams! Much more serious than the West! Or something.
We all know that's a crock of crap, but with the loss of Detroit and the addition of Winnipeg, life'll get easier. But the entire mash up seems like a giant pain in the ass. Puck Daddy has a basic break-down of how teams'll make the playoffs, and it just seems more complicated than necessary:
The real issue is going to be with the playoffs, given the unbalanced conferences.
The original concept: The Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin inside each conference, with the top four teams squaring off in divisional playoffs. The four conference champions will advance to face each other for the right to play for the Cup, potentially without geographic restrictions (i.e. they’re re-seeded).
So, in other words, the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins could play for the Stanley Cup. Which is really cool.
The wrinkle, as Friedman reported, is that the NHL is discussing a "wild card" option for those 8-team conferences.
The wild cards may end up being some variation of the "play-in" game or series that was floated earlier this year. So you’d take the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds on an 8-team conference, have them square off, and then the winner faces the regular-season conference champion. But that was just one theory.
Jesus Marian Hossa, just move Atlanta back and be done with it. That's not do-able, of course (and as someone living in Atlanta it pisses me off, but that's neither here nor there), but good lord. The Casual Fan, which is cited so often it might as well be a proper noun, will be batshit confused. There's also another thing that the Casual Fan, especially the Midwestern Casual Fan, will miss -- rivalry games.
Chicago becomes the only Original Six team in the Western Conference. Boo hoo, you might say. You still have to recognize that the Wings and Hawks rivalry is a damn good one. The Blues'll also lose out on playing the Red Wings too. Sure, that might be for the best. No one will ever say "Man, I miss playing the Red Wings. All of these points against the Jets just don't compare to that hatred."
The new realignment will be advantageous to the Blues. They'll still be in a division with Chicago, so that rivalry is there. They'll also be with Nashville, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, and of course the Jets. There are three teams right there out of those in the division that I can look at who will have a hard time making the playoffs annually, so that might be a boon to the Blues.
Still, breaking up the Central Division and moving the Red Wings out East will hurt some of the rivalries. Yes, new ones will be built and no, no one's going to mourn the loss of Detroit. But it will still take a while to get used to, and breaking up the NHL's most contentious division is a bitter pill to swallow.
EDIT: From Raw Charge's Cassie McClellan comes this handy map of the realignment for you visually oriented people. Geeze, poor Florida team. And by "poor" I mean 'aw, that travel sucks, but they better thank God every day they're not in the Western Conference." Click for a larger view.