Quick Thoughts on NHL Realignment

The NHL officially approved a new four-conference realignment format. The changes made, however, don’t put the term “realignment” to justice; a “colossal shakeup” seems much more fitting.

Here are the proposed four-conferences and their teams:

NHL Realignment

Photo credit: CBC

In case you haven’t heard yet, let me get you caught up to speed. The major points:

  • Divisions are eliminated and instead are replaced with four conferences. The two “Western Conferences” (for lack of a better name) each have eight teams; the two “Eastern Conferences” each have seven.
  • The new conferences are designed to accommodate “geographic proximity” and “established rivalries”.
  • The 7-team conferences will play each other six times (3 home, 3 away). The 8-team conferences will play each other either five or six times on a rotating basis. The NHL has also mandated that every team in the 30-team league will play each other at least once every season.
  • Winnipeg, as expected, will play Western opponents the majority of the time; Detroit, on the other hand, will continue to play traditional Western rivals as opposed to moving to the East, as originally anticipated.
  • The top four teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs. Yes, this means that a Western team effectively has a 4 out of 8 chance of making the playoffs, while an Eastern team has a 4 out of 7 chance.
  • The top four teams in each conference will play each other in a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format; the winners of the first round will then play each other in the second round. The four “conference champions” would then be re-seeded and also play in a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format.
  • Therefore, it’s conceivable that two “Eastern” or two “Western” teams could meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

There you have it. Clear as mud, right?

Strictly speaking about travel, this new re-alignment is fair, because:

  • Vancouver, for example, will avoid needing to travel to Detroit, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville, Dallas, and Columbus twice a year. Similarly, Vancouver’s increased trips to Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, and Phoenix means less mileage.
  • The old adage that Eastern Conference teams “have it easier” will no longer be able to be said. Now that all 30 teams will travel to play each other at least once, those Eastern seaboard teams (I’m looking at you, New York, Buffalo, Philadelphia, etc.) will have to make a trek to the West more often that normal.
  • The two teams which seem to get the short end of the stick are Florida and Tampa Bay, who’d have to travel northeast a hell of a lot more than they normally would.

The real issue is how the re-alignment affects teams competitively. The major points:

  • Yes, the “Western” teams have less chance to earn a playoff berth than the “Eastern” teams. That will only fuel the fire that there’s an Eastern bias in the NHL.
  • Some conferences are an absolute joke; Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, and St. Louis could all fight tooth and nail for one of the four playoff spots, while the Boston and Tampa Bay seem to be the only real playoff threat in their own conference. It’s hard to stomach two of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo and Florida making the playoffs while a team like Nashville (who is on par with, if not better than all of the preceding teams) could miss out.

Matt Lee

Matt Lee has been a Canucks follower and a prototypical Canadian for years; it started on the streets by playing road hockey before and after Vancouver Canucks games and it's brought him here. After graduating from SFU with a BA in Communications and a minor in History while serving as the student newspaper's sports editor for two years, Matt is now a student at BCIT's Broadcast Journalism program in hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster.

1 Response

  1. Nice work, but we’re going to have to disagree re: competition.

    I think the bias thing is overblown. MLB has had a 16/14 split in their conferences for years, and that’s never been seen as a big deal. And you haven’t taken into consideration that this realignment addresses the fact that Phoenix is likely moving after this year, probably East, possibly to Quebec City (which would make the Conferences 8/7, 8/7). And if you take a look at the playoff teams since the lockout, I think you’d be surprised to see how little this realignment would impact which teams have qualified for the post-season.

    Re: Conferences that are a “joke” to you – weren’t Montreal and Buffalo playoff teams last year? Strengths of teams, conferences and divisions ebb and flow always – look how easy the Canucks have had it in their current division the last few years. It’s the nature of the unbalanced schedule and divisional format that teams sometimes experience a fate they do not deserve. If you want real parity/fairness, every team would play in a 30 team division, where they play each other the same number of times (home and away), and travel the same amount of distance. That’s about as likely as CHB sex tape starring Clay.

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