After a lot of build up over the past couple of months, the NHL Board of Governors meetings finally began today and the hot topic of realignment was the focus. Just under an hour ago things started to leak out and it has seen become official that the league’s Governors have agreed upon a realignment plan and it is the “four conferences” lay out. Under the new plan, the Dallas Stars would no longer be grouped with their current Pacific Division rivals and will return to the “Central” group of teams. The purposed plan would bring about the biggest change in recent NHL history with the way almost everything is set-up being changed.
The league will now shift from six divisions that form two conferences into four conferences. The picture above shows the four conferences as they are currently planned. The Stars would return to something similar to the old Norris division, returning to past rivalries with the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and St. Louis Blues. Plus teams that could become natural rivals in Minnesota and Nashville. As for the Stars current Pacific rivals, they will all stay together and form up with most of the Northwestern division. The one noticeable thing is that out of the four conferences, the two that have eight teams are both of the western groups. This looks off, but actually leaves things open in case the Phoenix Coyotes do relocate (my bet is that we are seeing the last days of the Coyotes). If the franchise moves then the league could easily shift them into one of the seven-team “eastern” conferences and things would be balanced. If by some miracle Phoenix is able to save the franchise and stay there, then either Detroit or Columbus could shift eastward.
The two “western” conferences look great, but things in the eastern half of the league look strange. While it was known that the New York area teams didn’t not want to separate and that the Philadelphia Flyer and Pittsburgh Penguins did not want to split up, the NHL’s one flaw looks to be what they did to the two teams from Florida. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning got lumped into a conference with the most north-eastern teams, and now look to be facing a heavy amount of traveling while most of the league stayed in their current situations or improved. I don’t know if this could change, but currently I bet hockey fans in the state of Florida are not in a cheery mode.
The second big change is that every team will now see each team at least twice. It has been confirmed that part of this deal is that every team will play one home game and one road game against every team in the NHL. This is something many have been asking for from the NHL, and now fans will get a chance to see every team at least every year. Under the current format, the Stars only play a few Eastern Conference teams twice a year and sometimes fans don’t get to see some teams visit the AAC yearly. It’s a great move by the league to give fans a chance to see every team and a chance for smaller markets to at least see bigger teams visit once a season.
And finally, one thing is still not set in stone: the playoffs. Now follow me here. The first couple of rounds are decided, with the top four teams from each conference advancing into the postseason. The four teams from each conference would then compete against each other in a 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 format until each conference had a champion. Then the four conference champions would compete and the two left standing would play for the Stanley Cup. The thing left undecided is how they pair up. Would they be reseeded by regular season points, or should they play in a “west vs west and east vs east” format and still somewhat uphold the current finals format? Gary Bettman has said that he will discuss this with GMs and that what happens in the last two rounds of the postseason will be decided by the GMs. On one hand they could uphold the current style, or they could just say screw it and we could see a New York vs Boston or Chicago vs San Jose matchup for the Stanley Cup. It will be interesting to see what the GMs like and which direction the NHL goes.
But for now the big news is the change is drastic and that the Dallas Stars and many western teams were listened to. Florida got screwed over and they can’t be too happy, but otherwise I think the NHL accommodated most teams and kept a lot of big rivalries together. Just mark the date on your calender: The Stars will play their final Pacific Division game against the San Jose Sharks on April 2nd at the AAC here in Dallas. It will be fun to finally wave goodbye to the Pacific, and maybe the Stars can go out with a bang.
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Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Florida Panthers Gary Bettman NHL NHL Realignment Pacific Division Philadelphia Flyers Phoenix Coyotes Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning