Edmonton-Calgary, Toronto-Montreal, Montreal-Boston, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh those are some of the best rivalries in the NHL and they won’t be changing anytime soon.
In fact, with the new NHL alignment, the idea is to create some new rivalries with a four-conference proposal.
For six of the seven Canadian teams the rivalries will be quite familiar with the exception being Winnipeg. The move of Atlanta to Winnipeg started all the realignment discussions, and the Jets will soon be matched up with teams who all currently play in the Western Conference. Rightfully so, after flying north and west from Atlanta the Jets would be a better fit travel and time zone wise with the western conference teams.
The Jets will be in a conference with Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis.
As of this week, that conference would be the most difficult of the new four divisions in which to make the playoffs, as the idea is the top four teams from each conference will be in the showdown. Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Dallas all hold playoff spots under the current six-division formula in the NHL’s Western Conference.
The other conference, made up of the remainder of the current Western Conference teams includes Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose.
The other two divisions include just seven as opposed to eight in the first two conferences. The third conference includes: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
The fourth conference will be constructed of Carolina, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington in perhaps the most competitive new conference. These seven teams have combined for a total of 27 playoff appearances since the 2004-05 lockout season. The Devils and Rangers, Flyers and Penguins, Crosby versus Ovechkin and all three Staal brothers in the same conference has great appeal for TV ratings. If they can’t sell the game in the States with these rivalries they might as well move another six teams up to Canada and see what happens. I’m sure a Saskatoon-Winnipeg rivalry would work?
Some complaints of the new proposal is that the best 16 teams will not make the playoff. There is a similar argument about the current format, which allows the six division winners to automatically earn a top-three spot in the conference and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Deal with it. Those are the rules.
If the proposed system was in place for the previous six seasons, the good news is the Toronto Maple Leafs would have made the playoffs in 2007 and I wouldn’t have to hear people talk about the drought. Ironically, those people who are first to talk about this drought are Oilers fans. If the new format were in place, the Edmonton Oilers would have missed the playoffs and never would have had their miracle run to the Stanley Cup finals. They would still have a playoff drought exactly like the Maple Leafs.
After looking at the standings dating back to the 2005-06 season, most of the teams would not have been affected by realignment as far as making or not making the playoffs. Los Angeles would be the exception. The Kings, who were in the playoffs last season and in the 2009-10 season, would have missed the playoffs due to their record. They had the fifth best record in their new conference.
The team that would have benefitted the most if this system was in place since 2005 is the Buffalo Sabres. In 2007-08 and ’08-09 they missed the playoffs, but if they were in the four conference system they would have been in the playoffs and Carolina and New York would have been left on the outside of the playoff picture.
A selling feature to teams, especially those on the bubble year after year, is that, instead of having to be better than seven teams to make the playoffs, they need to be better than just three or four teams depending on which conference they play in.
Also, the new alignment allows for each team to have a home-and-home with every team and allows for fans to see their favourite players and non-rival teams at least once a year. Teams will also face division teams at least five times.
The final decision as to what will happen in the third round of the playoffs with the final four teams represented their conference remains unknown, but ideas for re-ranking the teams is one option. Another would be to keep it in the western and eastern formats they currently have.