After much hand-wringing by GMs and owners, the decision to go from six divisions to four conferences passed with little drama at the NHL governor meetings in California.
It wasn’t expected to go down this easily. But the owners — especially those of established teams — felt the pain of far flung franchises and compromised for the greater good of the league. The new alignment begins next season.
It looks like it shapes up pretty well with a minimum of difficulties. Okay, fans in Winnipeg might not be over the moon at being the only Canadian team in their conference but hey, they’ve got to be happy just being allowed back in the club, right?
The yet unnamed conferences are geographically based with no more than 2 teams in each conference being more than one time zone away.
Two conferences will have eight teams, the other two, seven. The top four teams will make the playoffs with the 1st playing 4th, 2nd plays 3rd. The conference winners will play each other but it’s not decided how. The two conference winners located in the more eastern zones could play each other or the four conference winners could be re-seeded based on season records. So you could get an all-eastern or all-western final. Boston vs Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup final? Works for me. But no potential Toronto-Montreal cup final because they’re in the same conference.
The compromises meant a few teams in the east will rack up slightly more air miles but compared to the Edmontons, Vancouvers, Anaheims, Dallas, and now Winnipeg, they’ve had an easy ride. Miles and miles and miles between cities, plus time zone changes makes it a bit of a nightmare for some western teams. The Toronto-Montreal-NY-Boston-Philadephia region is just so much easier for everyone concerned. By the way, that setup has been kept intact, adding Tampa Bay and Florida to the mix.
The real winners are the western teams and especially Winnipeg who being in the middle of nowhere have a gruelling travel schedule replacing Atlanta in the southeast division. Detroit too gets a break. There was much speculation that they’d move east which made a lot of sense but for the sake of being a strong draw to the Nashville’s and Columbus’s they were kept in the same division. At least Red Wings’ fans won’t have to routinely stay up for 10:30 start playing a west coast team. That’s got to be brutal for fan interest, especially kids if your team doesn’t begin the game until well past your bedtime. Now the farthest they’ll have to travel is Dallas.
It also give the NHL some flexibility for expansion/relocation. Under this format, it becomes much easier to add/subtract from a conference.
Which brings us to the Phoenix Coyotes, the NHL’s financial basket case being bankrolled by the league.
They remain a wild card in all this depending on who it’s sold to and whether they will be relocated. If it’s Quebec City, it could be absorbed into the same conference as Montreal (and Toronto) because they are currently one of the 7-team conferences.
Teams will play each other six times within a conference. In conferences with seven teams, they’ll alternate years of playing each other five or six times a year.
Most of the established rivalries remain intact with a couple new ones resulting for an added twist. In short, this plan makes a lot of sense.
Here’s the breakdown:
Conference A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver.
Conference B: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Conference C: Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida
Conference D: New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Carolina