As Winnipeg Free Press reporter Gary Lawless first reported last night, the National Hockey League has voted on, and approved, a new conference re-alignment that results in four conferences in the NHL. This new alignment was reported by Elliotte Friedman during The Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night. This new alignment will impact the NHL in obvious ways, such as travel and a re-newel of regional rivalries (especially in the playoffs). There are other not so obvious effects the new system will have on the NHL as well.
At first glance the new alignment is great. It puts the Jets, the Stars and the Wild where they belong, with other teams in the Central Timezone. The Stars are back with old rivals like Chicago and St. Louis. The nucleus of the Northeast and Atlantic stay together, as most agreed they should. Washington joins the Penguins, giving fans more chances to see Crosby vs. Ovechkin. And maybe most importantly, every team plays every other team home and away. That means that cities like Phoenix, Dallas and Nashville will get the boost of Crosby every season.
The Pacific Conference – or Gretzky Conference, as I suggested – is the simplest to understand. Every team in the Mountain and Pacific Timezones is in it. Games will all start between 7 and 8:30pm Mountain, or 6 and 7:30pm Pacific. This is one of the biggest benefits of the new alignment (more on that later). Expect to see a lot of these conference matchups at 10pm ET on Hockey Night in Canada. On the US side of the border, it unites the Avalanche with the other US west coast teams. NBC would be happy with the Avalanche, Kings or Sharks winning this conference. The chances of an all-Canadian matchup for CBC would be high.
The Midwest Conference – I suggest re-naming it the Howe Conference – was also quite simple to put together. It includes all Central Division teams, plus three teams that are actually in the Central Time Zone. No longer will Minnesota and Dallas fans have to stay up until midnight to watch their teams play divisional road games. Games will start between 6 and 7:30pm Central, or 7 and 8:30pm Eastern. This benefits children, who in the past couldn’t watch many of their teams’ road games. I honestly think it had an impact on the fanbases in both Dallas and Minneapolis. Old rivals, like the Stars and Blackhawks or Jets and Blues are back together. Mark my words, this conference will have great playoff games.
The Atlantic Conference – or Lemieux Conference – features all five current Atlantic Division members, plus Washington and Carolina. Again, a very sensible conference. In my opinion, the NHL needed to put Crosby and Ovechkin in the same division. NBC and Versus will love this division. The Capitals and Penguins will play a total of 28 games against Canadian teams, compared to 40 this season and 30 last season. So this will mean less Crosby and Ovechkin on Canadian television, not that the NHL needs them to promote hockey in Canada anyway.
The Northeast Conference – which isn’t very accurate, I prefer Richard or Orr Conference – includes all current members of the Northeast Division, plus the two Florida-based teams. While the rumour is Tampa Bay and Florida were two of the four teams who voted against the new alignment, I think it will work out well for them. The travel is horrible, they are by far the worst off in the league; however, there are lots of Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Bruins fans in Florida. Those rinks usually sell a lot of tickets when those teams are in town. It should, at the least, help attendance.
The Canadian networks will love this alignment. It means every Canadian team will play the others twice. CBC will get to continue showcasing Jets games at 6pm CT on Saturdays, but many of those games will now be against Chicago and Detroit instead of Florida and Carolina. The chances of having an all-Canadian playoff matchup are also greater. If Winnipeg makes the playoffs in a given year, chances are they might play Detroit or Chicago. Sportsnet will get to showcase games at better regional times.
The new alignment works for NBC as well. The Atlantic Division playoffs will undoubtedly be their focus come April, but the other divisions will offer something too. No longer will a Central vs. Pacific matchup result in a conflict with another series in the playoffs. The two Pacific Conference games will take place on opposite nights, alternating, all available on NBC Sports Network. The other six series will compete for time in the 7pm/8pm ET timeslot. Between NBC Sports Network, NBC and other Universal-owned channels, Americans will have access to all six. A dreaded Stanley Cup final seems no more, or less likely. Now Bruins vs. Rangers is a posibility.
Sunday Night Baseball… Bobby Valentine and Terry Francona will switch jobs in 2011. Valentine will take over for Francona as the Red Sox manager, while Francona takes over Valentine in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast booth. It has all the makings of an ESPN reality TV sh0w (Manager Swap, anyone?). Valentine was a horrible TV analyst. Every time he opened his mouth, I wanted to press the mute button. However, he was a great manager with the Mets – which gives this Red Sox fan hope. On the other hand, Francona was great on Fox working with Joe Buck during the American League Championship Series in October. He should fit in well with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, who are two of the best.
Winter Meetings… The buzz in at baseball’s winter general manager meetings is that Albert Pujols is on the verge of signing a 10-year contract with the Miami Marlins. Pujols would follow Jose Reyes, who signed with the Fish yesterday, to South Beach. The new look – in every way with a new logo and uniforms, a new stadium, a new manager and new faces – Marlins look primed to take a run at the Phillies and Braves this season. It will probably result in more TV coverage on Fox and ESPN as well. Prince Fielder is also rumoured to have interest in signing in Toronto. This is the kind of boost the Jays could really use. Nothing brings fans to the gate like homeruns, and with Fielder and Jose Bautista, its a good bet the Jays would hit least one every night. It is usual to hear about AL and NL East teams making a splash in free agency, but its
usually never the Blue Jays and Marlins.
Hockey Night in Punjabi… The popular broadcast among Punjabi speakers is returning this weekend. Punjabi is mainly spoken by those from Pakistan and western India. Many credit CBC’s hockey broadcasts in Punjabi with helping immigrants and their families understand the game. Grandparents can watch with their Canadian grandchildren, and to a certain degree at least, understand the sport. Harnarayan Singh returns as CBC’s main commentator. CBC will show one or two games each week in Punjabi. The broadcasts are available on CBCSports.ca, Shaw Digital Cable (channel 328), Telus TV (channel 131), Rogers Digital Cable (channel 799), BellTV and Bell Fibre (channel 232 on both).
Impact’s MLS Debut… Major League Soccer released a list of its opening day games for the 2012 season today. On Saturday March 10 the Montreal Impact travel to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps. TSN will show the game, along with RDS or RDS2 – RDS currently has a Senators game scheduled that evening. The game will go head-to-head with Hockey Night in Canada; however, neither the Canucks or Canadiens play at the same time (in fact they play each other later in the evening). TSN will squeeze the broadcast in between a playoff and the semifinal at the Brier. NBC will show its first MLS game on Sunday March 11 at 3pm ET when Dallas plays New York.
Bills Blackouts… I think I have an answer to everyone’s question about how Bills blackouts affect the Toronto market. Since Toronto is within the Bills home territory, and channels like CTV and Citytv are available over-the-air, they adhere to the NFL’s blackout policies. It seems that both Buffalo and Toronto are not allowed to see blacked out games. The Titans @ Bills game on Sunday was also blacked out on NFL Sunday Ticket. The NFL has a 75 mile rule on blackouts, where the blackouts are enforced within a 75 mile radius. Toronto is about 70 miles from Orchard Park, New York.
The CBC like HBO… Andrew Coyne has an interesting article in MacLean’s Magazine about how he would restructure the CBC. He makes some great points, including the fall of network television in general. Coyne essentially suggests that the CBC become a subscription channel. Canadian taxpayers who want it would pay for it. The rest of its money would come from government subsidies. Canadian content rules would still apply, with the hope that the result would yield higher quality Canadian shows. The problem is that not everyone has satellite or cable TV. The CBC could get around the issue by offering a CBC News Network simulcast over-the-air, with local news substituted in from 6-7pm local (and maybe again from 11 until 11:30). That way the CBC could still provide its most important mandate, to give news and breaking news to all Canadians, while offering a higher quality service to those who pay. Hockey Night in Canada would have to stay over-the-air as well. The idea is good, and with a few tweaks I think it could actually work.
MLSE on Xbox 360… Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has thought of a new way to make money, by selling its three television services in HD on the Xbox 360 platform. MLSE will make the streams available in HD, including GolTV Canada HD. No service providers have picked up GolTV Canada HD since it launched in August. The service will cost money. More on this later in the week.