It’s kind of ironic that on the year Major League Baseball breaks from all tradition to have balance between the American League and National League, that the NHL is flipping the exact opposite way to have unbalanced conferences after almost twenty years of balance. It was in fact in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season that the NHL last had unbalance, with two more teams in the Western Conference. Well I guess what is old is now new again. The Pacific Division remains unchanged from that season, aside from adding the Coyotes (who played in Winnipeg at the time). The Midwest now has four of the six teams it once had, losing Toronto and Detroit while adding Colorado (who played in Quebec at the time) and the expansion teams in Minnesota and Nashville. The Eastern Conference has a bit more of a change, with the Florida teams flipping from the Atlantic to the new Central (once called the Northeast). The Atlantic replaces them with expansion Columbus, as well as Pittsburgh and Carolina, who were once in the Northeast. Only have of the Central were Northeast members in 1994-95.
Let’s start with what I like about this alignment. It actually makes a lot of sense. The Pacifc and Midwest are close to perfect. Colorado fits better with rivals Dallas and Minnesota than with the Pacific teams. The Central, while horribly named considering all teams are in the Eastern Timezone and three are in states that border the ocean, has four of the Original Six. It also means that those four, plus Ottawa, will travel to Florida more than they do now, which should help with attendance a bit. Adding Columbus to the Atlantic also makes sense considering they are struggling mightily in the Central. Now Crosby and Ovechkin will come to Ohio multiple times a year, instead of just once each.
The only thing I would consider changing is Detroit. They fit best in the Midwest with rivals like Chicago, Colorado and St. Louis. Moving them back there would also balance the conferences. I think the only reason they got moved to the East is because the NHL knew they couldn’t get away with switching Columbus, but not Detroit, who have always wanted to make the move since Toronto did in the mid-1990s.
It is also interesting how this affects television, on both sides of the border. In Canada it means the Jets will play their western Canadian rivals more often. Even divisional games in Denver could anchor CBC’s doubleheader some weeks. It also entirely gets rid of 6pm CT divisional games. All Jets divisional games should start between 7 and 8 CT now. It also means that CBC will get to show the Red Wings, a team with a fair following in Canada, more often in the early game of the HNIC doubleheader now.
And it is the Red Wings that are the most interesting team in all of this. They were, and still are, the gateway for Western-based teams to appear on national TV in America. The Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions, are on NBC’s networks eight times this season. Three of those games are against the Red Wings (three others against Chicago, if you were wondering). Phoenix is on three times, once against Detroit. Of the Pacific Division’s 12 games on NBC’s networks this year, one-third are against Detroit. Throw Colorado in the mix and you have another. The good news for the Avalanche is their four other NBC SN games come against their new division rivals.
As for the playoffs, the chances of an all-Canadian first round series are a lot higher than under the current system. With the wildcard even a Jets vs. Oilers/Canucks/Flames series is possible in the first round. I’m glad the NHL kept the divisional format for the first and second round of the playoffs, while also keeping conferences. I also like the wildcard. It means Jets-Oilers or Bruins-Rangers are still possible.
I earlier mentioned the problem of the division names, in particular the Central. I think now is a great time to bring back the classic division names: Adams (new Central), Patrick (Atlantic), Norris (Midwest) and Smythe (Pacific). Those were uniquely hockey. Or come up with new names based on the past 50 years. They could have Gretzky (Pacific); Orr (Atlantic); Howe, or your pick of any number of Canadiens players (new Central); and Hull (Midwest, Bobby played for Chicago and Brett for St. Louis and Dallas). These names made the NHL different from the NBA and it is time for a return to them.
What’s everyone else think of the new re-alignment and potential TV ramifications? I know there are those who hate it as much as I love it.
Who Broke It… As an aside, to bring media back into this, the way this story broke was quite interesting. Elliotte Friedman was the first to break the new format on Hockey Night in Canada‘s Hotstove Saturday. When TSN did Insider Trading on Tuesday they went with the generic “this is already out there” instead of crediting Friedman.
Then there is the ESPN and TSN stories on it, which are similar, but not. ESPN’s, written by Pierre Lebrun, breaks the news of a memo sent to the NHL’s 30 teams, while crediting Friedman as breaking the story. TSN’s article, written by “TSN.ca staff” doesn’t mention Friedman or Lebrun at all. In fact at first it said the memo was “obtained by ESPN”, before later becoming “obtained by TSN”. Lebrun works for ESPN (primarily as a writer) and TSN (primarily on television). ESPN owns 20% of TSN. The TSN story should have simply credited Lebrun, a name associated with the network anyway, in my opinion.