Huge news in the hockey world last night as the Board of Governors met and agreed on a new conference realignment in the NHL. The realignment removes the current 2-conferences, 6-division format and replaces it with an entirely new 4-conference format. Two of the conferences have 8 teams, while 2 have 7 teams. The top 4 teams in each conference will make the playoffs and the first two rounds of the playoffs will be inter-conference, with a Conference Champion being crowned after the 2 rounds. This change is quite dramatic, so let’s take a look at some of the positive and negative ways it will affect the NHL:
Home and Away With All Teams – This is a definite pro for the league and the fans. With the new alignment every team will play home and away against every other team in the NHL. This will allow fans in every NHL city to have Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos come to their city to play hockey.
New Conference Rivalries Will Form – At the current time the divisions each contain 5 teams. Teams play against their divisional foes 6 times per year. With the current alignment this means that each team has 4 teams that they play often and can build rivalries against. However, once the playoffs come the teams can play anyone from their Conference. With the new alignment teams will play a greater number of teams a greater number of times. By that I mean in the 7-team Conferences teams will play 6 different teams 6 times, which adds 2 more teams that can be regular season rivals. Also, in the playoffs teams will often face each other year after year, which should build hate and result in more heated first and second round series between teams that despise each other.
Time Zones – Current Western Conference teams that are in the eastern end of the continent (Detroit, Minnesota, Dallas) have problems with time zones with regard to their away games. Dallas even has to play divisional games in time zones that are 2 hours different. This new format should allow teams to play more games closer to their home city, which will result in less time zone problems. This also means that fans out West won’t have to place as many mobile sports bets because they are still at work when their team starts playing as often.
Relocation Much Easier – This isn’t a big plus, but if teams move it is much easier to adjust a four-conference system than the current 6 division system with 2 conferences. For example, if Phoenix does end up moving to eastern Canada, that team could just be added to one of the 7-team conferences and there would be no hassle.
Travel – Teams will likely have more travel with the new alignment because they will be heading to every other NHL city each season. That being said the new alignment might allow for schedule makers to schedule road trips for teams where they can hit cities on the way, which should help battle the travel expense problem.
Best Teams Don’t Make Playoffs – With the new alignment the LA Kings would have missed the playoffs last year even though they had more points than the Stars. This will be a regular occurrence when certain divisions are superior to others.
Playoff Races Aren’t As Exciting – Last season the playoff races in both Conferences were very exciting, but if you look at how the races would have played out in the new 4-conference format it becomes much less interesting. The playoff races are the second most exciting time of the NHL season, next to the playoffs and the races in the new alignment won’t be nearly as exciting.
Care About Less Teams – I’m a fan of the Ottawa Senators and at the moment I care about how every team in the Eastern Conference does because it affects the Sens chances of making the playoffs. With the new alignment I will only care about the 6 other teams in their Conference, which will make things somewhat less interesting for fans.