NHL Realignment Approved

The NHL announced last night that its Board of Governors were able to come to an agreement on a realignment of the league, one that will abolish the current East/West system and instead create four different conferences.

The four new conferences are as follow:

  • Conference A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
  • Conference B: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
  • Conference C: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
  • Conference D: Carolina, Long Island, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

Under the new system, every team in the league will play a home-and-home against every other team, with the rest of the games coming against division rivals. Playoff games will be arranged by conference, with the fourth seed playing the first seed, and the second seed matching up against the third-place team. It’s still not clear how conference finalists will be seeded after the conference playoffs are over.

There’s a mixed bag of pros and cons here. The Western teams – especially clubs like Columbus, Detroit and Nashville – will have a more favourable schedule travel-wise, but pay for it with a reduced chance of making the playoffs. Instead of eight of 15 teams making the playoffs, eight of 16 will be in under the new system. For the Eastern teams, the trade-off is different – they’ll actually be travelling more to the far West, playing in each city at least once per season under the new rules, but their playoff odds get better, as eight of 14 teams will be in the post-season.

That competitive imbalance is bound to raise eyebrows going forward. Last season, Vancouver finished first in the league, San Jose fifth, Anaheim ninth, Phoenix 11th and Los Angeles 12th in the NHL. Had the new playoff seeding been in effect last season, one of them would have missed the playoffs. Despite the new schedule, that sort of thing isn’t going to go away – some above average teams will be missing the playoffs while some poor teams will make the post-season.

The bottom line, for teams like Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver is that they’ll spend less money travelling, but that they’ll face a more difficult road to the playoffs every year – and once they’ve made the playoffs, they’ll probably play against higher-quality teams. The news is especially bad for Winnipeg – at least the other three clubs can hope that Phoenix relocates somewhere northeast in the near future.

For Toronto, the news is great for fans and less so for ownership. The team will have to pay a little more for travel, but each year they could conceivably be a below-average team and still make the post-season.

It’s not fair or equitable, but it was probably inevitable that this sort of system came about. Certain Western Conference teams were paying a heavy price in travel under the old setup, and to even that out they had to offer some kind of carrot to the Eastern Conference clubs – a carrot that seems to have come in the form of a more favourable playoff schedule.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    5th place teams should be able to crossover if they have more points than a 4th place team. And if you tie the crossover to a one game sudden death match you’d have up to two of these 4th vs. 5th cross-conference death matches before the playoffs start.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    One way to fix unbalanced playoff odds is to lottery an extra round of Draft Picks to team in the bigger conference. IDK, two extra teams is one extra 7th round draft pick to two bigger conference teams. Or an extra $100000 of cap room lotteried to each of two teams for the next year.
    I used to think the cap should only kick in at min salary toavoid unwieldy roster moves, but would be nice to see stars in minor leagues for $15/ticket.
    Don’t like the jet fuel used to keep Florida teams with Cdn east ones. They could just play extra games against Canadian teams during the season. How many elderley Canadians grew up cheering for Senators? The pre-WWII Senators?! Switching with Pittsburgh and Boston is natural but the NYC fans might like the Rangers in northern conference to give more options. If there is a league that should preserve a colder climate it is this one.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    #77, I’d go with your first names as division names. That way more people are honoured.

    Could shorten the regular season to 80 games and have a few non-playoff teams volunteer to play in some sort of challenge tourney. Start the scores at the spread and play against other leagues or national teams. Could demo new rule changes. The lockout wasn’t worth better ref-ing but would’ve been nice to have 2004-2005 and non-3pt rule changes. If people would watch on TV or in person would pay for lost NHL games.

  • @JW That competitive imbalance is bound to raise eyebrows going forward. (Quotes league-wide team rankings).

    However the rankings last season were generated from an unbalanced schedule. Schedule effects diminishing should help, no?

  • RKD

    I propose a few alternative solutions to the realignment:

    1) If Conference A and B both have 8 teams who all equally have a 50% chance to make the playoffs as opposed to 57%, the top 2 teams in Conference A and B would get a bye.

    2) At the end of the season, teams would receive an extra point, two, or more depending on the math differential for winning the season series against the teams in your own division.

    3) Go to 5 divisions with 6 teams each, top 3 teams make the post season with 18 teams in the playoffs. Alternatively, 6 division with 5 teams each and the top 3 make the playoffs, 15 teams in the post-season.