06 December 2011
Late last night, during an NHL Board of Governors meeting, the league approved a total realignment plan for the 2012-2013 NHL season. According to the approved plan, the current divisions and conferences would be eliminated in exchange for a four conference system. For a basic breakdown of the conferences, visit Puck Drunk Love, where I wrote a post about the changes.
With an understanding of what was approved, you may ask yourself the purpose of the new alignment. The problem began when the Atlanta franchise was sold and moved to Winnipeg during the offseason. Because of the move, divisions no longer made geographical sense, given that Winnipeg was temporarily placed in the Southeastern Division. On top of that, the Detroit Red Wings organization began lobbying for the team to move to the Eastern Conference, citing that the travel grind was too much for the players to handle. To handle all the requests at once, the league ultimately blew up the division system we know today.
If you take a step back and take it all in, there are five big reasons why the Board of Governors approved such radical change:
Money will always be the top priority. Not only does this plan helps franchises who have trouble selling tickets fill their arenas by bringing in talent from the opposite conference, but it also alleviates some of the financial burden of travel for centrally located teams (such as the Red Wings). Once a full season with this new plan is over, expect to see plenty of positive changes in the accounting department.
For a breakdown on new travel imbalances, head over to On the Forecheck.
It sets the league up for expansion or contraction
With the Coyotes situation lingering, the league had to implement a plan where it wouldn't require big changes if the Coyotes changed cities. The new system allows the league to drag and drop the organization into any conference it deems appropriate without dealing around divisional barriers.
Two words that surround any sports league, contraction and expansion, aren't that scary anymore to the NHL. The wide open plan will have the capacity to hold at least two more teams if the league decides to go down that road. May we see a franchise in Seattle or Quebec? On the flip side, league offices can easily bring down the axe on one or two franchises without shouting Jenga. Could we say goodbye to the New York Islanders or Columbus Blue Jackets?
It balances out national air time.
Analysts will be quick to point out how the system will allow for balanced scheduling, given that every team has a "Home & Away" with each other but the real gem is being able to place former Western Conference teams on national television. Due to late start times in the West, young fans normally don't get to see the Kopitars or Sedins of the league. Starting next season we could see a lot more Western flair on afternoon weekend games.
The playoffs could start with rivalries.
BOS-MTL, PIT-PHI, SJS-LAK, CHI-DET
Sound like a good partial first or a full second round? I thought so. Under the proposed plan, NHL fans can expect the chance to see their top rivals on day one of the playoffs. And while the semi-finals and finals haven't been fully figured out, we can guarantee the system will have a "baptism by fire" approach in creating energy for the playoffs.
Divisions were pointless anyway.
Let's face it. Divisions are pointless. Apart from the division winner, who secures a top three conference spot, the rest of the playoff roster is up for grabs. Last season we saw that the Vancouver Canucks were the only team in the Northwest Division to qualify for the playoffs. The more times that this occurs, the more it proves that the divisions aren't balanced. As we all know, the more imbalance that the league has, the worse it is for franchises stuck at the bottom. The new alignment can give the bottom dwellers a fighting chance, provided they can figure out their own front offices.