NHL Realignment Approved

The NHL announced last night that its Board of Governors were able to come to an agreement on a realignment of the league, one that will abolish the current East/West system and instead create four different conferences.

The four new conferences are as follow:

  • Conference A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
  • Conference B: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
  • Conference C: Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
  • Conference D: Carolina, Long Island, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

Under the new system, every team in the league will play a home-and-home against every other team, with the rest of the games coming against division rivals. Playoff games will be arranged by conference, with the fourth seed playing the first seed, and the second seed matching up against the third-place team. It’s still not clear how conference finalists will be seeded after the conference playoffs are over.

There’s a mixed bag of pros and cons here. The Western teams – especially clubs like Columbus, Detroit and Nashville – will have a more favourable schedule travel-wise, but pay for it with a reduced chance of making the playoffs. Instead of eight of 15 teams making the playoffs, eight of 16 will be in under the new system. For the Eastern teams, the trade-off is different – they’ll actually be travelling more to the far West, playing in each city at least once per season under the new rules, but their playoff odds get better, as eight of 14 teams will be in the post-season.

That competitive imbalance is bound to raise eyebrows going forward. Last season, Vancouver finished first in the league, San Jose fifth, Anaheim ninth, Phoenix 11th and Los Angeles 12th in the NHL. Had the new playoff seeding been in effect last season, one of them would have missed the playoffs. Despite the new schedule, that sort of thing isn’t going to go away – some above average teams will be missing the playoffs while some poor teams will make the post-season.

The bottom line, for teams like Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver is that they’ll spend less money travelling, but that they’ll face a more difficult road to the playoffs every year – and once they’ve made the playoffs, they’ll probably play against higher-quality teams. The news is especially bad for Winnipeg – at least the other three clubs can hope that Phoenix relocates somewhere northeast in the near future.

For Toronto, the news is great for fans and less so for ownership. The team will have to pay a little more for travel, but each year they could conceivably be a below-average team and still make the post-season.

It’s not fair or equitable, but it was probably inevitable that this sort of system came about. Certain Western Conference teams were paying a heavy price in travel under the old setup, and to even that out they had to offer some kind of carrot to the Eastern Conference clubs – a carrot that seems to have come in the form of a more favourable playoff schedule.

  • stevezie

    I love the home and homes with every team, but am pretty sure we’ll just get sick of our conference “rivals” before the season is over.

    Remember when the league boosted inter-conference to cut costs and boost “rivalries”? It got boring to see Calgary, not progressively more exciting.

  • Spydyr

    With the unbalanced divisions the only fair way to set up playoffs is to have the top three teams in each division make the playoffs.The missing two team from each conference should be wild card. That makes it even for everyone.

    The playoffs within the division sucks.The old battle of Alberta during the glory days took place in the early rounds.

    Teams should be seeded one to eight in their conference.

    The best part no more Wild in our division And home to home with every team.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      There are no divisions in this plan. The top 4 teams in each conference play against themselves (A1 vs A4 and A2 vs A3 — B1 vs B4 and B2 vs B3, etc…). After that, apparently there is no plan for the remaining 8 teams.

      It’s a smart plan if the NHL plans on either contracting 2 teams or expanding by 2 teams. I’m for contraction, but I expect the NHL does not share that opinion.

      Every team should play every other team every year. I’ma fan of that change.

      • Spydyr

        Ummmmm there are two conferences and two divisions in each conference.The east has seven teams a division and the west eight.When Phoenix moves east it will balance things .Fifteen teams in each conference.That is why I suggested the wild card format.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          Well… one of us is reading this wrong or has our information wrong. My read of the nhl.com press release:

          http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=604852

          is that there will be 4 conferences and each will be autonomous; regular season scheduling will be weighted toward intra-conference battles; playoffs start at the intra-conference level. There are no more divisions.

          I could be wrong… it’s a lot of new information to take in, but that’s my read so far.

          @Chris

          I think the South conference idea is a no go because the teams are dealing more with time-zone issues than regional ones. I think they care more about broadcast time than travel time (although the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive).

          @Archaeologuy

          agreed. the disparity will sort itself out and while I’m sure there will be lots of unintended consequences we can’t foresee… i think in the long run parity of competition with even out.

          @Rosscreeknation

          I see the snowbird angle but still don’t quite get the rationale for the florida teams… is the snowbird thing enough? I wonder if they were 2 of the 4 that voted against?

          Also, I totally agree they should go back to proper names instead of regional names. It’s just cooler. But I’d be interested in updated names… Gretzky Conference anyone?

  • Milli

    Amatuer, silly, stupid, I don’t know what to say. The east there are 7 team div’s and the west they are 8? WTF? I cannot ever see the NFL agreeing to something like this. Phonex must be moving east, it is the only logical explanation.

  • dangersuede

    My dream scenario:

    – contract by 4 teams (26 team league)

    – no conferences or divisions

    – every team plays every other team equally in a best of 3 (home ice switches each year)

    – 75 game season (25 opponents x3 games each)

    – playoffs are seeded 1 vs 16

  • The thing about the competitive balance of the conferences is that teams fluctuate all the time in how good they are. Teams near the bottom rise, teams near the top fall. Teams like the Oilers or the Flames might get crushed for a couple seasons, but a few seasons of that and the lottery picks start adding up. Things will change.

    This could be exciting, and it could really breed the hate that has been missing in most “rivalries”.

    I mean, how big of a rivalry is Edmonton vs Calgary when the Captain of the Oilers can take an illegal crosscheck that causes him to be writhing in pain on the ice and the team doesnt even want to get payback?

  • Spydyr

    @ Romulus’ Apotheosis

    My bad…the NHL is calling it four conferences not divisions.I stand corrected.

    From what I gleamed there will be four teams from each conference making the playoffs.What I have suggested is it would be better if three teams from each conference make it. Then the top two teams in the east and top two teams in the west, outside the top three in each conference would be wild card teams.That takes out some conferences being seven and some being eight teams.

    A little more fair.

  • RedMan

    What this really means is no more hockey in Phoenix… making it 15 teams east, 15 west.

    isn’t that obvious?

    I enjoyed watching one game in Phoenix, compliments of the FAN960, and the arena was great as was the overal experience, but the place wasn’t even half full, and there were way more flames jerseys the coyote jerseys.

    an interesting spotting during the game was Ken King walking around amongst the fans, who had no clue who he was…

  • I agree with Archaeologuy on competitive balance. A plan can’t be made around who is good now because it changes constantly, if slowly. The Sharks and Wings have old core players, their time is short. The Dys have a few years left before their core fades out (Hughson – save Luongo. I think he was awake for that one. It’s a TV time out, and the trainers are coming on the ice to change his diaper). We should be on the rise as this happens.

    In 4-5 years the Oilers and Kings look to have the best chance of being the dominant teams in the conference, though nothing is set in stone.

    The other thing to consider is that corporations (and the team owners who are all corporate guys) primarily only care about revenue, by definition. As long as the East has all the people and drives the revenue stream, if they get favoured I doubt any hearts are broken at NHL Command. The solution is to continually kick their asses.

  • I think the eastern conferences were intentionally built with 7 teams each to allow for a possible relocation of the Phoenix team to a future eastern centre such as Quebec City, Hamilton or Toronto with minimal disruption. Otherwise, it’s a pretty big concession to the two most eastern conferences if this is the long term plan.

  • I haven’t analyzed it carefully (not at all actually) but I think though the distances travelled may increase for some teams, with the realignment, there may be less games per team in other time zones. Frequent travellers may be more impacted physically by time zone displacement than distance travelled?

  • 24% body fat

    so if the canucks (or some how the flames) win the first two playoff series do you think we see them raise a conference championship banner. What happens if the canucks finish first in the conference but the flames some how win the conference playoffs, man the fight to which team gets to raise the banner would be priceless. also would we have to sit through another hour long canuck celebration of not winning anything. You all remember how long Marcus Naslund retirement night was, how about cliff ronning night. Or the presidents cup celebration before the season was over. Or the opening night this year where they recelebrated the campbells trophy and honoured the 5 people in a city of close to 3 million who didnt riot. LOL

    Side Note, only two games against minnesota next year SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEe

  • Clyde Frog

    I dislike it, I am sure there are years where we will benefit… But I hate the idea of the post season being limited by conference over points.

    IE Conference 1 has a 5th place team with 97 points and conference 2 has a 4th place team with 89… That sort of geographical inequity frustrates me.

    Oh well, I’m sure it will be fun.

    • 24% body fat

      You are correct that if your conference happens to be stronger that year there will be the appearance of unfairness. However:

      1) That is the case under the current situation already.

      2) As you note it will be more fun because your attention will be focused upon a season long race against your opponents. Right now what happens in games not involving the Oilers is irrelevant to the success of the Oilers. Under the new system every game in the conference matters. That is good for hockey fans.

      3) The difference in relative conference strengths is not systematic and will even out over time. This won’t hurt any team in particular.

      4) Nothing distorts the standings as much as the Bettman point and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Those that are complaining about the inequality of having different number of teams in each division are exaggerating the extent of the unfairness.

    All other things being equal this means that a team in an eight team conference will miss the playoffs once every sixteen years or so. Which is pretty close to no inequality at all. Especially since the exact composition of these conferences isn’t going to last 16 years.

    So the system isn’t unfair in any meaningful way. What it does do is unsure that you get to see every team in the league at least twice every year. That’s good for the everyone.

    It also makes the divisions meaningful again. This is a huge plus. The way it is set up now the schedule is organized around divisions but your division has no impact on the playoffs. this creates a distorted relationship between your team and every team in the league. Using the abstract 1-8 seeding there is no reason to care what is happening with other teams. Right now it doesn’t matter how other teams do. What matters is getting to the magic number of 97 points (or whatever it is).

    Now, by contrast, interest in the NHL is focused upon a season long divisional contest which will dramatically increase fan interest in the sport. How other teams do is relevant again. It doesn’t matter how many points you have, what matters is that you beat Calgary and Vancouver. This makes the regular season relevant by making it a race against actual opponents instead of a race to an abstract finish line.

    This is the greatest thing to happen to hockey in 20 years. Now, if only they would give three points for a win then hockey would be perfect.

  • PEOPLE:

    THERE IS NO MORE EASTERN CONFERENCE & WESTERN CONFERENCE.

    THERE IS NO NEED TO TALK OF A 16/14 SPLIT OR A 15/15 SPLIT.

    THERE ARE 4 CONFERENCES. PERIOD. THAT’S WHY THEY CALLED THEM CONFERENCES, NOT DIVISIONS.

    EACH OF THE 4 CONFERENCES ARE INDEPENDENT OF ONE ANOTHER.

    HOW MANY TIMES MUST THIS BE SAID?!?!?!?!

    • No kidding…

      One could argue that its less of an advantage than most people think to be inthe 7 team conference.

      You have to play extra inter conference games against teams that know you well in the 7, if your a boarderline playoff team that probably will not bode well. The 8 team conference teams get four less inter conference games and 4 more games against guys you see only twice a year, that are not tight interconference games, maybe more chance to steal points.

      The downfall though is some guys in the 8 team conference will get a edge against others in the same conference if they get their 6 game schedules against the 4 weaker conference teams as opposed to the 3 – 5 gamers…they will flip back and forth year to year, but year to year teamsalso get stronger / weaker…luck of the draw, and thats a considerable swing of 8 total points.

  • Dangerous Neil

    I don’t have a problem with some divisions having 8 team and some having 7 teams, the benefit of being in a 7 team division is relatively small.

    The biggest issue is that one division might have the best 5 teams in the league in it, and one of them will miss the playoffs. To solve this problem why not do like the CFL. If the 5th place team in division A is better than the 4th place team in division B they take their spot. Have this only apply to the 4th playoff spot in a division.

      • Matty Franchise Jr

        Where do teams get crossed over to? If A4 is one of the wild cards, does it automatically get back in to the A conference playoffs? Which conference does A5 get moved to if it has more points than B4, C4, and D4?

    • Spydyr

      The crossover idea, in addition to diluting the meaningfulness of the division setup, has its own distortions since teams in each division play different schedules.

      The fact that a team in one division may have more points than a team in another division is not evidence that it is a better team.

      So the crossover idea introduces a complication, waters down the meaningfulness of regular season games, in order to address a problem that doesn’t exist.

  • Not bad. Not perfect, but it’s good to shake up the matchups once in a (long) while.

    TV should be a lot better for some of the teams, which is always good.

    If they get 10-15 years out of this format, it’s fine.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Does this change impact the intellectual honesty of the Flames?

    Instead of trying to get into the top 8 of a bigger pool, they now have to be top 4 in a smaller pool. A pool where Vancouver, San Jose, and LA are guaranteed. They are competing with Edmonton, Anaheim, Colorado, and Phoenix for the last spot.

    Do they believe that they are better than those four teams with some minor tweaking? And will always try to be that number four team.

    Or, do they look at the young rebuilding that is happening in Edmonton and Colorado along with the fact that Anaheim has maybe one of the best lines in hockey and say that they need to rebuild so that when the top teams start to flounder they can move into that top group?

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    oops, screwed up above.
    End of the day the 7 team conferences get extra outside conf games, I think that’s a clear benefit compared to the conference games (even against a weak conf opponent – but I guess you can argue the other way)… So that’s probably a null point. The who plays who 5 or 6 games intra conference in the 8 team conferences is a 6 point swing potential depending what teams you play….that’s interesting.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    5th place teams should be able to crossover if they have more points than a 4th place team. And if you tie the crossover to a one game sudden death match you’d have up to two of these 4th vs. 5th cross-conference death matches before the playoffs start.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    One way to fix unbalanced playoff odds is to lottery an extra round of Draft Picks to team in the bigger conference. IDK, two extra teams is one extra 7th round draft pick to two bigger conference teams. Or an extra $100000 of cap room lotteried to each of two teams for the next year.
    I used to think the cap should only kick in at min salary toavoid unwieldy roster moves, but would be nice to see stars in minor leagues for $15/ticket.
    Don’t like the jet fuel used to keep Florida teams with Cdn east ones. They could just play extra games against Canadian teams during the season. How many elderley Canadians grew up cheering for Senators? The pre-WWII Senators?! Switching with Pittsburgh and Boston is natural but the NYC fans might like the Rangers in northern conference to give more options. If there is a league that should preserve a colder climate it is this one.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    #77, I’d go with your first names as division names. That way more people are honoured.

    Could shorten the regular season to 80 games and have a few non-playoff teams volunteer to play in some sort of challenge tourney. Start the scores at the spread and play against other leagues or national teams. Could demo new rule changes. The lockout wasn’t worth better ref-ing but would’ve been nice to have 2004-2005 and non-3pt rule changes. If people would watch on TV or in person would pay for lost NHL games.

  • @JW That competitive imbalance is bound to raise eyebrows going forward. (Quotes league-wide team rankings).

    However the rankings last season were generated from an unbalanced schedule. Schedule effects diminishing should help, no?

  • RKD

    I propose a few alternative solutions to the realignment:

    1) If Conference A and B both have 8 teams who all equally have a 50% chance to make the playoffs as opposed to 57%, the top 2 teams in Conference A and B would get a bye.

    2) At the end of the season, teams would receive an extra point, two, or more depending on the math differential for winning the season series against the teams in your own division.

    3) Go to 5 divisions with 6 teams each, top 3 teams make the post season with 18 teams in the playoffs. Alternatively, 6 division with 5 teams each and the top 3 make the playoffs, 15 teams in the post-season.