Earlier this week NHL officials approved a realignment plan that would certainly shake up the foundation of the league. Gone are two conferences with three divisions each and in place are four conferences – two with seven teams and two with eight, since there are more teams in the current Western Conference. This would guarantee home-and-home series among all teams.
The plan comes less than a year after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in an attempt to accommodate for the Jets but still compete in their old division – the Southeast Division. The Board of Governors discussed two plans, the discarded plan would have just moved the Jets to the Central Division and either Detroit or Columbus would have switched to the Southeast Division. Instead, the league decided to go with more dramatic change to a four conference league, as each conference will focus on a geographic area. Although it cuts down on travel for some Western Conference teams that had issues in the past – like Detroit and Nashville – it will mean more trips west for the eastern teams.
The two conferences based in the Eastern time zone would each have seven teams. One would consist of New Jersey, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington and Carolina and the other would be made up of Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay. The third conference is made up of eight teams, from the Eastern and Central time zones: Detroit, Columbus, St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg. That means the last conference – also composed of eight teams – based in the Mountain and Pacific time zones would be made up of Los Angeles, Calgary, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Edmonton and Colorado.
It’s not set in stone just yet however, since commissioner Gary Bettman is still awaiting the pending input of the NHL Players’ Association. The NHLPA has expressed to Bettman some concern for the change and he will meet with union chief Donald Fehr before making the change. The change does not need union approval to take effect, which the NHLPA contests and we could see the change as soon as next season.
As part of the realignment, teams will play home-and-home series against all nonconference teams and five or six games against each team in their conference. The top four teams from each conference at the end of the season will make the playoffs, which means the first two rounds would consist completely of intra-conference matchups. It has yet to be determined whether Bettman will have the third round reseed or just have pre-determined matchups.
The league has made no mention of what each conference would be called, though we hope the league feels a bit nostalgic and brings back the likes of the Wales Conference and Campbell Conference. Now we are left to wonder if the NHL will expand with two new teams (Hartford, please?) since the conferences are uneven.
First thing is first, there is the big issue of whether the Coyotes will remain in Phoenix.
Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.