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.