The NHL tackled an obstacle similar to a longstanding problem in the world of college football – they struck a deal for conference realignment – and, unlike the NBA, they reached their agreement in a short amount of time.
Earlier this week, NHL officials got together and put a new way to split up the league on the table to discuss, and the league was almost in entire agreement for this change.
Currently, the league consists of two conferences with three divisions made up of five teams each. Under the new system that will most likely go into effect next season, the NHL will have four conferences – two having eight teams, and two having seven teams (they haven’t been named yet, so for now, they are simply A, B, C, and D).
During the season, every team will now have the chance to play everybody, having a home-and-home series against all nonconference opponents. Depending on whether a team is in an 8-team or a 7-team conference, they will play conference opponents five or six times.
The top four teams from each conference will make it to the playoffs, allowing sixteen total teams to have a playoff spot. After two rounds, each of the four conferences will have a conference champion. These four teams would meet in the semifinals, and the winners of these two series would play for the Stanley Cup.
I am a big fan of this deal and what it will most likely bring to the sport of hockey. Even though most deals done in sports consist of both pros and cons, I am struggling to find many cons in this shifting.
Becoming a sports fan via the NBA, I grew up watching every team in the league play each other. I believe this adds so much to a sports league. It allows new rivalries to be made, top teams from each conference (now all four conferences) to face off, and increased variety for who your team plays night in and night out. If they want to fill up more of their seats, they made the right move.
More personally, I have a roommate from Pittsburgh that absolutely loves the Penguins. On the other hand, I support the Dallas Stars. Now, we will get to see our two teams battle it out on the ice year in and year out, and we won’t have to speculate about who has the better team. Because of the new system, there will be a lot of happy NHL fans at entertaining watch parties around the nation.
Something many fans stress over when conferences are realigned is rivalries. Will they stay intact through this transition? Luckily, the league effectively kept all major rivalries in the same conference. Pittsburgh’s two major enemies – Philadelphia and Washington – both join Pittsburgh in the “D” conference. Other rivalries that remain in the same conference are Chicago/Detroit and Montreal/Toronto. Even though this seems like a trivial part of the sport, “hating” another team provides thrilling matches and income for both franchises.
Not only will this move improve the NHL fan-base, but it will also help the NHL teams themselves. The Western teams will now have less traveling to do during the regular season. The one downside to this deal revolves around the fact that the Eastern teams will have to travel a little bit more because they will visit the west coast more frequently than before. However, most of these owners are looking at the big picture for the league and jumped on board with this move. Additionally, the playoffs will provide series within a team’s division for the first two rounds, so teams won’t have to travel very far.
Even though a lot of radical changes are about to take place in the NHL, I can envision one more occurring. To make it an even four conferences with eight teams each, two more additions to the NHL seem inevitable. The people of Quebec and Markham would love to welcome an NHL team to their Canadian cities and would undoubtedly bring along plenty of fan support. A 32-team league would provide stability to regular season scheduling and would offer a more reasonable number of teams making the playoffs (having four of seven teams in a conference qualify for the playoffs just doesn’t seem right).
I can’t wait for this move to go into effect during the 2012-2013 season. They have provided a means for more competitive and diverse play while also allowing the league to have a more economical season. With all of these pluses, couldn’t this realignment be considered an upgrade? The NHL has shown the sports community that realignment can be done in an efficient and orderly manner… yes, I’m talking to you college football.
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