Changes are afoot in Canada’s number one sport as the National Hockey League embarks on a new era. The Winnipeg Jets rejoining the league may have seemed huge enough; and we’re not for a second denying that. Realignment of the league’s two conferences has now gazumped it. The NHL Board of Governors agreed to a new set-up that abolishes the current six division, two-conference set up in favor of four conferences ahead of next season.
Winnipeg gave the NHL a convenient dilemma with the league not wanting to keep the snow-capped city on in the Southeast division for too long. Add that to the Detroit Red Wings piping up and the league had its excuse. The conferences, two with eight teams and two with seven, are yet to be named and go a little something like this:
Conference A: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks
Conference B: Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets.
Conference C: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs.
Conference D: Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals.
When the season ends there will be four playoff spots up for grabs with 1v4 and 2v3 and the winners facing off in the second round. Following that the third round will see the four division winners battle it out, and were assuming that’ll mean A versus B and C versus D. Then comes the Stanley Cup and inevitable riots should a Canadian franchise make the series.
Why do it now? Apart from the Winnipeg problem, it gives more teams a chance to make the playoffs. In addition, realignment means teams will visit every arena in the league at least once. This should give teams in small markets better attendances, as they’ll get to see Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby at least once a season – injuries permitting.
The news will be music to the ears of the Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars as they now have the chance to play the majority of games in a time zone that suits them.
It should hardly surprise anyone that the NHL is continually trying to hone it’s offering into a well-rounded end product for their customers. The league is one that also recognizes that gambling is a pastime that many of the same fans enjoy and that’s reflected by both sponsorship deals and the league allowing players, such as Roberto Luongo, to sign deals to endorse online gaming industry sites. Given that the league is most popular amongst Canadians the fact its attitude towards the gambling industry is more relaxed isn’t a shocker.