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Realignment hot topic in NHL circles

NHLWith Winnipeg entering the NHL, realignment has been a hot topic in NHL circles — and now it looks like a drastic overhaul of divisions and conferences has a change of passage for next season.

As first reported by Elliotte Friedman on the Hot Stove segment of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, the plan would set up two conferences each with two divisions. The lineup under debate looks like this:

Eastern Conference

Division 1
Carolina Hurricanes
Florida Panthers
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Washington Capitals

Division 2
Detroit Red Wings or Columbus Blue Jackets
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Montreal Canadiens
Ottawa Senators
Pittsburgh Penguins
Toronto Maple Leafs

Western Conference

Division 1
Detroit Red Wings or Columbus Blue Jackets
Chicago Black Hawks
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators
St. Louis Blues
Winnipeg Jets

Division 2
Anaheim Ducks
Calgary Flames
Colorado Avalanche
Edmonton Oilers
Los Angeles Kings
Phoenix Coyotes
San Jose Sharks
Vancouver Canucks

The overwhelming goal: keep teams relatively close to their own time zones. Currently Columbus and Minnesota play most of their road games outside of their time zones, which leads to lower media ratings. It leads to a simpler schedule: each team would play every team out of their division just twice (home and home), with the rest of the games within the division. The first round of the playoff would take place exclusively within the division.

It does make some sense on many levels, though some more tweaks undoubtedly are in the works. The owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers aren’t happy to be placed in different divisions and limited to two games per season. While the management of the Detroit Red Wings likes the idea of more Eastern games, it looks like they’ll lobby to be placed in the Western Conference to maintain rivalries with Chicago and St. Louis. 

Of course, this could all collapse: 20 of the 30 governors must approve of the plan, and there are certainly some owners who don’t want to see this drastic a change. The fallback would be swapping Winnipeg and Detroit, but that doesn’t address the many complaints arising from Wild fans sick of tuning in at 9 p.m. for many games. And there’s still some sentiment for an all-Canada division, travel costs be damned.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. Really, most of the opposition will come from Eastern teams wanting to maintain rivalries. But rivalries are fluid in the NHL: Given their proximity, we can foresee a great Columbus/Pittsburgh rivalry once both teams are at par. And the reemergence of Minnesota/Chicago and Minnesota/St. Louis rivalries should carry some weight as well.


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