New NHL Realignment Inherently Flawed
Say goodbye to some of the longest-standing rivalries in the game, and say hello to some of the most manufactured rivalries in the game. The NHL, NHLPA and NHL Board of Governors approved the new realignment to be put into service starting next year, lasting a minimum of three seasons.
The new plan is contingent on some ridiculous rotation because of lopsided divisions of eight teams in the east, and seven teams in the west. Thanks to the strange geographical landscape that the NHL has employed, teams have had to be at the mercy of some wide open swaths of the United States and Canada that are uninhabited by NHL clubs.
The poor Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now they have to travel up into the snowy north numerous times each season, and try and kindle fiery rivalries against many Original Six teams like Boston, Toronto and Detroit. Somehow, I don't see that happening. Perhaps they can be called the seventh and eighth wheels in this rocky relationship.
Realignment may have made sense several seasons ago in the height of the Pittsburgh/Washington "rivalry" manufactured by the NHL to market the big superstars of the game, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Crosby continues to be the largest face of the game. Ovechkin has fallen off the face of the hockey planet.
This "rivalry" now means nothing because of Ovechkin's highly-publicized shortcomings. Yet, it will be forced due to this new landscape by keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals in the same division. Makes sense.
On the other hand, the classic, longstanding rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings will have to be put on hold while this realignment goes through its trial period. Years of playoff matchups and bad blood always lead to immensely entertaining matchups every year. They will only play each other twice a year now. What a shame.
Most of the western teams will not see too much change. Teams that had previously been in the Pacific Division, minus Dallas, will be in the same division this time around. The midwest features teams in the Central Division like St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville.
This inherently flawed realignment has its positives. Teams will now travel north and southward in the same time zone, leading to appropriate game times for the most part. This will lead to fewer 10:30 p.m. faceoffs on the east coast while playing games out west, and fewer 4:30 p.m. faceoffs on the west coast when teams are east.
One of the more fascinating aspects of this realignment deals with the playoffs. Teams that had been in the same conference, or division, for that matter, may now have the chance to battle for the Stanley Cup. Forging a path to the final round will just be that much more interesting.
While this can be fun, imbalanced difficulty becomes an issue. East 1, which features the entirety of the Atlantic Division, will be extremely tough to make the playoffs as it stands. Teams will have to go through buzzsaws like the Devils, Rangers, Penguins, and usually, the Flyers and Capitals, to get to the playoffs. It will be one huge dogfight.
Perhaps the best part of this realignment will be the limited trial period which will only allow this situation to exist for three seasons. If this trial turns into a monumental disaster, then a solution might be hard to find. A one-team move to situate Winnipeg in the Central or Northwest might have to happen.
No matter how you slice it, this problem won't have to be a problem until three years from now. Until then, enjoy manufactured rivalries and strange playoff pictures. This could be genius, or disaster.