The NHL officially notified its teams on Tuesday about its latest
re-alignment proposal and there is much more than we initially realized.
For one thing, the "four conference" idea is a goner, which means four divisions in two conferences. Here's how the new setup would look.
The NHL officially notified its teams on Tuesday about its latest re-alignment proposal and there is much more than we initially realized. For one thing, the "four conference" idea is a goner, which means four divisions in two conferences.
It looks like this:
Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
Midwest Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg.
Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver.
So what does it all mean?
It depends on whether you're in a seven- or eight-team conference.
For the sevens (Midwest and Pacific) it looks like this:
32 games vs. Eastern Conference (one home, one away vs. each opponent).
21 games vs. other division in Western Conference (teams with the extra home game will be rotated every season).
29 games vs. own division (you will play one team four times instead of five).
For the eights (Atlantic and Central), it looks like this:
28 games vs. Western Conference (one home, one away).
24 games vs. other division in Eastern Conference (teams with the extra home game will be rotated every season).
30 games vs. own division (you'll play two teams five times, and five teams four times).
It is no longer the top eight teams per conference that qualify. Instead, the top three teams in each division are automatic qualifiers. They will be seeded 1, 2 and 3.
The No. 4 seeds have some potential for crossover. Those spots will be given to the next two teams with the highest point total. (The club with fewer points would play the higher-seeded No. 1.) That is on a conference, not a league-wide, basis, which prevents a cross-continent matchup along the lines of Vancouver-Florida in the first round.
This is probably the biggest concession the league made to the union. It also explains why Columbus and Detroit were moved to the East. Not only is it better for their fans' television viewing, but the Red Wings really wanted assurances they wouldn't have to travel west in the first two rounds of the playoffs. This setup prevents that from happening.
What it does mean, though, is if a team crosses over, it stays there. So, let's say the Oilers finish fourth in the Pacific next year, but get to the playoffs as the "remaining team" with the most points. And say Chicago wins the Midwest (ahead of St. Louis and Nashville) and has fewer points than Pacific winner Vancouver. The Oilers technically become a Midwest Division club. They would play the Blackhawks in the first round and, with a win, the Blues or Predators in the second.
It wouldn't be a surprise if the league wasn't 100 per cent thrilled with this solution, because it might hurt the development of some divisional rivalries. But, it also increases the possibility of, say, Vancouver vs. Chicago. What it also proves is that players will accept the possibility of worse travel if it means a better chance at the playoffs, as suspected when the first re-alignment attempt was nixed last season.
Last year, the NHL considered the idea of playing the final four as a meritocracy -- putting the highest-remaining seed against the lowest, with no consideration for geography. That's also a goner, which is too bad, because I was looking forward to seeing if it made for a better final. The Stanley Cup final will remain Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference.
The league-wide memo indicates the NHL and the NHLPA will meet after the 2015-16 season to see if this is working, "or earlier if circumstances warrant." So there's your "out" for expansion or relocation, should one (or both) of those possibilities exist.
But, barring that, both sides are committing to this for three years. It's a good plan and makes a lot of sense. It must still be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors and the players, but given their history, what could possibly go wrong?
Elliotte FriedmanElliotte joined CBC in October 2003 and is a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada.
As part of his duties with Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman hosts Inside Hockey, a feature airing every Saturday during Scotiabank Hockey Tonight that tells the stories of the people and places that shape the game of hockey. Always committed to giving viewers the inside story, fans call follow him throughout the regular season and playoffs on Twitter.