It’s been a few days (okay, more than a few) since the NHL announced plans to go ahead and realign the divisions and change the hockey landscape.
When the Atlanta Thrashers moved northwest to Winnipeg to become the reincarnation of the Jets, fans had to know something like this was coming. The NHL knew they had to do something. Winnipeg in the southeast division? Come on. If we’re talking about Winnipeg being southeast of Nome, Alaska, then yeah, Winnipeg belongs in the southeast division.
Heck, a seismic shift like this probably should have happened a while ago. Detroit and Columbus in the western conference? Makes absolutely zero sense. No teams in an eastern time zone should play in a conference which dictates that they have to travel to the west coast to play teams multiple times a year.
When Atlanta moved up to Winnipeg, I thought there would be a fairly simple solution. Move Winnipeg to the Northwest Division, the Minnesota Wild to the Central Division and either the Nashville Predators or the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Southeast Division. If the Indianapolis Colts can be considered south in the AFC South in the NFL or the Dallas Cowboys considered east in the NFC East, then the Blue Jackets could have made the move work. Understandably, rivals dictated much of the realignment decisions in the NFL. The Cowboys had great rivalries with the Redskins, Giants and Eagles and the NFL didn’t want to break that up.
As for the NHL, they tried to get something done before the CBA expired last year, but couldn’t gain any traction in getting it done. The NHLPA wanted no part of it. There was a somewhat prevailing thought that perhaps something would be done in agreeing to a new CBA. It was not.
And so it was last week that the NHL sent a memo to all 30 teams with a proposed deal that would realign divisions. But it’s much more than that. The NHL is completely changing the landscape of the game as we know it. Six divisions? No way! The NHL wants to go to four. We’ll get to who is in which division in a moment. Playoffs? Of course there will be playoffs, but the top three teams in each division are guaranteed to make the playoffs and then there will be four wild cards. Rather than conference playoffs, there would be divisional playoffs with the highest seeded team in the division playing the wild card team. There will still be conferences, eastern and western, but far more emphasis on divisions.
- Atlantic Division: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals
- Central Division: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Pacific Division: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks
- Mid-west Division: Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets
Looking at the divisions, the eastern conference is far more difficult than the west, something that the NHLPA has a major issue with. The Atlantic Division in particular is difficult. Look at all of the good teams in there…Devils, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Capitals. Going to be difficult to knock one of them off the top. Plus you have sixteen teams in the east versus fourteen in the west. So that’s a little quirky to have uneven conferences, but geographically, this makes the most sense. The NHL got it right by dividing them all up like this. This will make the league better overall and make the NHL more interesting. Should this go into effect next year, hockey fans will be very interested in seeing how this system works and the new division rivalries that can form.
There are a few hurdles that need to be cleared and the NHLPA needs to approve of this. They seem hell bent on fighting it right now, but eventually they’ll approve of it. They have to. It’s simply not fair for a team like the Jets to have to remain in the eastern conference and travel as much as they do. The Red Wings deserve to be in the eastern conference. And moving from six divisions to four will make the NHL fascinating. It’s exciting to see these new changes and it will be really exciting to see how everything takes shape next year.