December 04, 2011
As the NHL's top movers and shakers descend upon Pebble Beach this weekend ahead of the Board of Governors meetings, realignment will be the most talked about topic on the agenda.
Even as the future of the Phoenix Coyotes remains cloudy, the NHL standings we see today will be different next season; and if some have their way, drastically different.
After months of discussions and various plans thrown out about where certain teams should move and how the divisions/conferences should be set up, this latest one is a winner and should be the way to go for next season.
• Home and homes. Every team would play a home and home series. This is something fans have wanted since the NHL changed the scheduled years ago. Every team visits every arena at least once, and that's good for fans on both coasts who don't get to see the league's top stars and teams every year in person. It's also good for teams hosting the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and others who typically boost ticket sales in visiting arenas just by showing up.
• Rivalries remain. Outside of Winnipeg moving in with the old Norris Division, the key rivalries we remember from the Patrick, Norris, Adams, and Smythe Division days are kept together with a few reunions such as Washington back in with Pittsburgh, New Jersey, both New York teams, and Philadelphia.
• Divisional playoffs. The divisional playoff model setup, which helped create rivalries in the past, would be part of this realignment scenario. The top four teams from each of the four divisions would make the playoffs and battle it out for the first two rounds. After that, the final four will be re-seeded. Keep in mind, there would be no more East/West, Wales/Campbell, however you want it, so the possibility for a Pittsburgh/Detroit, Boston/San Jose Stanley Cup semifinal would exist.
One detractor to this plan: the NHLPA.
According to a source familiar with the informal discussions between the NHL and NHLPA, the union has indicated it does not favor a setup to two seven-team divisions and two eight-team divisions under which the top four teams in each division would qualify for the playoffs
The NHLPA, which does not have a formal voice in the matter, believes such a setup would be unfair to teams in the eight-team divisions.
Realignment will not make everyone happy campers with the final result. It's impossible. And while the NHLPA might believe it's unfair for the eight-team conferences, it'd be worse for the teams that miss the playoffs despite having a higher point total than a team in one of the other three conferences.
• Geographical improvement. There was no breakdown of how the rest of the scheduling would go under this proposal, but this four-conference setup is better geographically for just about everyone than under a simple swap of Detroit or the Columbus Blue Jackets with Winnipeg Jets. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning may have a few additional miles to travel, but those warm weather teams will feel the Snowbird Effect in the cash register.
Despite one GM telling the Calgary Sun's Eric Francis that teams would face 20,000 more miles of travel and an additional $1 million in costs under this plan, it would be a leveling of the playing field so that western teams aren't the ones logging most of the miles each season.
The question now is what do the Red Wings and Blue Jackets think about this plan that keeps them grouped with teams out of the Eastern Time Zone. Both teams would like for more of their games to start earlier for their fans.
Red Wings owner Mike Illitch's claimed that commissioner Gary Bettman "promised" the Red Wings would move to the Eastern Conference, but Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano tells Ansar Khan of MLive that the real issue is having to travel west twice a season.
It's going to be a contentious debate Monday and Tuesday when these plans are discussed, but only two-thirds support is needed. Are there at least 11 NHL teams that would vehemently reject this proposal?