In a move that is being described as nothing short of ‘seismic’, the NHL has approved an incredibly radical realignment plan that tosses out the 2 conference with 6 divisions model. The new configuration splits the league into 4 ‘conferences’ 2 having 8 teams and the other 2 having 7 teams. The NHL could have gone the simple route and moved Winnipeg to the Central and put Detroit or Columbus into the Southeast, but the league went for way beyond simple in a move that will have a big overall benefits to teams and fans.
While the ‘conferences’ have not been named yet, they are organized into geographic zones so for the sake of the article, I’ll give them such names.
As can be seen the conferences keep rivalries mostly intact, while giving travel relief to a number of clubs, mostly those on the West Coast. This is because of the new schedule which has teams playing conference opponents 5 or 6 times and teams in the other conferences in a home-and-home each season. At first the ‘Eastern’ Conference doesn’t seem to fit with the geographic theme, sticking the Florida teams with those from the Northeast division. However, the composition of the ‘Atlantic’ Conference keeps intact alot of rivalries, so one geographic oddity had to happen.
The playoff system will also get a facelift. The top 4 teams in each conference make the playoffs with the first two rounds consisting of intraconference matchups. The conference ‘winners’ will then advance, but the composition of the later rounds has not been finalized. They could go with a set up such the Western champs play the Central champs and Eastern plays Atlantic, or they could reseed the 4 winners so one conference doesn’t always play the same each year in what would be the semi-finals.
This wholesale makeover of NHL realignment is big for sure, but it is a refreshing one that could change the landscape of the league, heat up old rivalries and build new ones. Some teams might have preferred the alignment as it now, but everyone agreed the new proposal was best for the league as a whole. The fact that the teams could all come together and agree on the relaignment change bodes well for the future of the league.