The NHL Board of Governors approved the realignment of the league’s divisions in the midst of the lockout shortened 2012-13 NHL season. The NHLPA who rejected the move at first, came around and agreed on the changes, meaning when the 2013-14 NHL season begins the conference will look as follows:
Ever since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg there has been talk that the league needed to change the structure of its divisions. The Jets Part 2 have been playing in the Eastern Conference as a Central Time Zone team. Rather then just move the Jets over to the West and take one of the Western Conferences’ Eastern Time Zoned teams the Detroit Red Wings or Columbus Blue Jackets over to the East the league decided to completely redo the make up of its divisions.
Six becomes four
Last season the divisions consisted of six groupings of five teams. Now there will be four divisions. Two divisions with 8 teams (East) and two divisions with 7 teams (West) totaling 30. With the four division setup it would mathematically make more sense to have 32 teams in the league, something that is highly speculated to happen in the near future. Both Quebec City and Markham (Toronto), Ontario are on schedule to have NHL ready arenas constructed in time for the 2015-16 season if not sooner.
Realignment as it looks now could be short term. The newly approved format will be reevaluated by the NHLPA after the 2015-16 season. The possible addition of new franchises in Quebec City and Toronto would also force a restructuring. The two new franchises would belong in the Eastern Conference which already has two more teams than the West.
Many intriguing rivalries will be rekindled.
The old Norris Division rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will be back on your TV set 5-6 times a season once again. The Leafs were moved from the West to the East in 1998.
The Detroit Red Wings joining the East will also allow them to play fellow Original 6 franchise the Boston Bruins on a much more consistent basis. With both franchises being recent Cup winners and yearly contenders this rivalry could lead to some great playoff matches in the near future.
The Western Canadian teams and California teams will share a division again for the first time since the 90’s when many great rivalries existed, especially between the Oilers and Kings circa the Wayne Gretzky trade to LA and years that followed.
One rivalry suffers
The great rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will take a serious hit with the new realignment in place. The two original 6 teams will see a serious decrease in head to head action. The new realignment means that 5 of the Original 6 teams will play in the Eastern Conference leaving the Blackhawks alone in the West.
The top three teams from each division will make the playoffs. The last two playoff spots in either conference will go to wild card teams determined by best overall record. If 4th and 5th in one Eastern division claim better records than 4th in the other, then they will both qualify for the playoffs leading to situations where 5 from one division make the playoffs and 3 from the other.