One topic on the agenda this year was division realignment as a result of the Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg and the inevitable relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes.
As discussed back in June, the realignment wasn’t just a matter of switching teams out of existing divisions, but rather the deletion of two divisions and the move to a four-conference league.
As reported by TSN, the board approved the change in format after about an hour of deliberation.
There are a number of reasons behind this change. In addition to adjusting conferences for the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL is preparing itself for a future in which the Phoenix Coyotes, as well as a handful of other franchises, may be moved to new cities. A four conference league can absorb changes easier than a six division team.
Geographically, the realignment is intended to help ease the burden of travel for Western Conference teams. Aligning divisions by time zone also allows for better consistency with TV scheduling for franchises who were previously stuck travelling between multiple time zones regularly, including the Dallas Stars.
The realignment proposal did not receive full support at its inception due to the elimination of a number of classic rivalries, including Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers, in order to organize the teams by geography.
As Anthony San Fillippo reported in October, both organizations had a fit.
To address this, the NHL opted to ignore geography and moved the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning to the “Northeast” conference while adding the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes to the “Atlantic” conference.
In the new format, every team will play the 22 non-conference teams in a home-and-home series while playing the other members of it’s division six times each.
It has been reported by a number of outlets, including TSN, that playoff determination will revert to the pre-1994 format, in which the top four teams from each conference will compete to make it to the Semi-Finals. There will be no “Eastern” or “Western” labels, meaning that the Flyers could conceivably face a “Northeast” team in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Although several franchises need to become more stable before league expansion can realistically occur, the four conference format lends itself better to a 32-team National Hockey League in the future.
I have not read or heard many complaints regarding this news, and it’s not surprising. It resolves a half dozen logistical issues facing the league while maintaining rivalries and opening the door for more exciting playoff possibilities. If there’s anything I’ll miss, it’s the rivalries against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens; now we’ll only get to hear mock “Ole Ole Ole” chants once a year in Philadelphia.
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