The Pros and Cons of the NHL's Realignment for the Montreal Canadiens

 

This week, the NHL announced a brand new format to accommodate certain scheduling issues that have risen the West, and thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. By now I’m sure that you’ve seen the details of the new four-conference format, so I’ll spare you most of the details, but it's needless to say that more than a few people are on the fence about it all.

What’s relevant to the subject matter here is that the Montreal Canadiens will essentially play with the same Northeast Division opponents they’ve known for years, with one little twist. The new mini-conference will also add the two teams from Florida to the fold, rounding out a division of seven and separated by a 7-team Atlantic Division.

At a glance, it may seem as if the Canadiens are pretty much in the same position as they currently are, from a schedule perspective. But the reality is much worse. I’d even go as far as to argue that the new schedule makes the Canadiens one of the biggest losers in the league, at the very least from the perspective of the fan.

With six games played between each of their new conference-mates, the Habs will now face teams outside of their division only twice each. No matter whether they’re the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Vancouver Canucks or Washington Capitals. For all intents and purposes, gone are several rivalries the Canadiens had with Atlantic and Southeast teams. The new schedule also fails to take advantage of the possibility to create new rivalries with former Western teams, such as the Wings, or the Western Canadian teams. Moreover, with half of the playoffs taking place between divisional rivals, gone is the possibility to see the Habs face off against new opponents that aren’t in their division.

It’s not all bad news, so for the sake of objectivity, we’re going to try and be a little objective. Here’s a list of pros and cons for the Canadiens, with regard to the new conference breakdown and schedule format:

Pro: The Habs get to keep all their Northeast rivals.

Con: Thanks to the new schedule, which will only see teams play those outside their conference twice each, and only play them in the third and fourth rounds of the playoffs, assuming of course they’ll ever be able to get that far, the Habs will lose rivalries with the Flyers, Pens, Caps, and to a lesser extent, the Devils, Hurricanes and Rangers.

Pro: All other things remaining equal (like, the quality of the teams, etc.), and with only 14 teams in the two "Eastern" conferences, the Canadiens will now have a 57% chance to make the playoffs (versus 50% chance in the “West”, and 53% chance under the current format).​

Con: Regardless of how terrible the Habs have been this season, there is still a certain amount of teams at the East’s cellar that they’re usually guaranteed to finish ahead of. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, they’re not usually a cellar-dweller, and I think we can all agree on that. Reducing the number of teams the Canadiens have to compete with to six, versus 14 currently, makes things ultra competitive and a lot more difficult, regardless of the quality of each individual team.

Pro: With the new playoff format, the Habs will likely play the Bruins even more often in the post-season now, strengthening their rivalry and bringing it to new heights.

Con: The Canadiens will have to play the Bruins even more now in the post-season. Why is this also a con? Well, like our buddy and Hockeybuzz contributor Ty Anderson told me, "this takes half the excitement that comes with Bruins vs. Habs in the playoffs because it'll be too common. Loved when it would line up perfectly, now it'll be somewhat expected." Couldn't have said it better myself.

Pro: While the rivalry with the Bruins might end up getting stale, we may finally get to see playoff series between the Habs and the Leafs, Sens or Sabres.

Con: Who are we kidding; they'll still likely play the Bruins every year.

Pro: The new division means a potentially great rivalry between the Habs and the Lightning, who have a lot of Quebec-born and former Canadiens players. 

Con: I don't think anyone other than Habs fans living in Florida are looking forward to six games against the Panthers. Sure, they've gotten better this year, but Habs/Panthers games have always been notoriously boring.

Pro: Ottawa is still a 2-hour bus ride away. Toronto, Boston, and Buffalo are all at manageable distances.

Con: According to this chart, the Habs will have to travel an average of 617 miles for games. That’s one of the better numbers in their division, and certainly betters than the Florida teams (the two worst teams for travel under the new format), but still well in the bottom half of the league for travel. As a whole, the breakdown makes literally no sense, considering the selling point was supposed to be easier travel. How does the Atlantic get away with four times less travel than the West?

Pro: The West seems to be set up and working under the assumption that Phoenix will likely eventually move East. There’s a glaring spot open for them in the Northeast, maybe even in Quebec City.

Con: Adding an eighth team to the new Northeast only adds to the Canadiens’ problems with this new format.

The league wasted plenty of opportunities with this new format. Instead of looking to build new rivalries, they went with a schedule that benefits the same-old match-ups that we’ve seen too many times. We get it. Bruins/Habs, Hawks/Wings, Pens/Caps, these games are good for business. But in the long-run, this new format isn’t going to work. Why wouldn’t you facilitate a schedule that would allow the possibility to see these match-ups in a Stanley Cup Final?

Instead, these “rivalry matches” can only happen in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and Lord knows we don’t see that happen often enough. Moreover, other rivalries will now be reserved for the final two playoff rounds. The rivalries that the Habs have built with the Flyers, the Pens, and other budding rivalries against teams like the Rangers or Caps? Forget them.

In this new format, there are some clear winners, and some clear losers. The Habs are definitely among the losers. At best, we’ll get the exact same thing we’ve been getting for years. Too many divisional games, too many playoff series against the same teams, and not enough of the other teams in the league. The status quo. But I guess, as Habs fans, that’s something that we’ve become used to.

It doesn’t really matter what any of us think, of course, because regardless of any changes, for better or worse, the Bell Centre will still be sold out, merchandise sales and TV ratings will still be high, and the buzz will still be the same around the team no matter who they have to face or in what circumstances. But the league, and, vicariously, this team’s ownership, is abusing this fact in order to benefit other teams. And that kinda sucks.

What do you think of the new schedule? Is it going to affect the way you watch the Canadiens? Let us know in the comments below!

 

6 Comments

Jason Pietroniro's picture

I don't like it just because less teams will play in Montreal. I really enjoy going to see those out of market games. Also, I really enjoyed the finals being east vs west. Sort of a battle in itself between fans. Always been a fan of cheering the eastern team regardless of how much I hate them as a Habs fan.

Only pro it seems is a better chance at making the playoffs. But is that really a pro. To me it may just mean more season like we are having now. Mediocre seasons to make the playoffs, and conserve energy. I think strategies will change for coaches and gms, and actually make the regular season less interesting.

George Prax's picture

I'm actually not sure the Habs have a better chance of making the playoffs. Like I said, sure, they only have 6 other teams to content with, but that means that teams will adjust their strategies accordingly, and build their teams to face each other. Of course the Habs won't adjust any strategies, which makes things a lot more difficult. Bruins are a contending team, Leafs are playing well, Sabres are good, Florida should be good next year, Sens are rebuilding and the Bolts are probably going to bounce back. That's a competitive division, and the Habs laissez-faire attitude won't help them.

demez's picture

I think it's really stupid. The rivalries were already formed in the divisions, the setup does nothing to create new rivalries, all it does it reduce current ones. Instead of getting to see Ovechkin and Crosby at the Bell Centre twice a year now we only play them twice in the year. And I don't believe playing Western conference teams a WHOPPING extra game a season is going to spark any rivalry. The reason the Boston/Montreal rivalry was so intense is that it kept happening randomly 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, now its going to happen all the time. Not to mention the playoff situation, how does it make sense that 4/7 can make it on one side and only 4/8 on the other? And how boring will those first round matchups be? I used to look forward to seeing conference teams outside of divisions pair up in the playoffs, I don't want to see up to 7 more games against a team I already saw the Habs face 6 times that season, that's 13 games vs the same fucking team!

George Prax's picture

I think they wasted a huge opportunity to try and create new rivalries. Why does it have to be six games inside a division? This whole divisional rivalry thing is nonsense, and it always has been.

Jason Pietroniro's picture

Laisse-faire attitude! Prax, you're on fire.

True, no doubt at this point the Habs will be in a tough conference. But I have faith the franchise will get over this era and adjust accordingly. And hey, if they don't, we can be damn sure we'll be bottom feeding team in this conference for a few years and end up with at least a few picks going forward. I'd really love a Jonathon Toews or a Tyler Seguin playing on the Habs. Mind you, even with high picks we'll still end up drafting daft like we have in the past. Fischer style.

George Prax's picture

Ya, this post was made assuming we'll still have the same management next year. Because Gauthier doesn't have the tools to adjust. This team drafts, trades, signs, works based on what they believe is in their means, and that's not the right way to do business. If you're in a small conference with the Bruins and the Leafs, then you build your team different than if you're playing the Caps and Devils every night. It's just common sense.