The NHL Board of Governors approved a realignment plan on Monday night that eliminates the current two conference, six division format and moves to a geographic four conference league. Under this plan all teams will play a home and home series against all non-conference teams and five or six games within their conference. The new conferences, unnamed to date, will be as follows:
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
St. Louis Blues
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
The playoff format will also change; the top four teams in every conference will be guaranteed a playoff spot. The first two rounds of the playoffs will consist of intraconference matchups and a proposal of whether to reseed after the second round or have predetermined pairings is still being debated by NHL officials.
My thoughts:When I heard the original rumors of realignment that had the Penguins moving to the Northeast Division I wasn't very excited since they would leave the division with longtime rivals Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey. The easiest thing to do in my opinion would have been just to move Nashville to the nobody-cares-sans-Washington Southeast Division and keep everything else the same. In NHL geography Tennessee is pretty southeast and for whatever reason that option was never really considered. This new conference format allows the Penguins to stay in the same "conference" with their rivals and the fans get a bonus of having Washington back where they belong. It will be nice to see the Pens play some of the western teams more. I always enjoy when they play Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg.
There is a downside in this realignment of course; the secondary rivalries with teams such as Buffalo, Boston, and Montreal will only be played as one home and home series. I also wonder what will happen when some of these southern teams that nobody cares about either fold or relocate (Phoenix, Florida), will the NHL realign again?
Not sure how I feel about the new playoff format, it will be different for a while but things may even out as the truly best teams will face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals. We have seen recent Conference Finals that pair the two best teams in the NHL and the victor has an easier time with their Stanley Cup opponent. The NHL has made many poor decisions over the last 20 years such as expanding too fast and too south and lackluster rule enforcement, but I don't think this plan is among their worst. With all that being said, the Penguins should be in good shape and that is all I really care about.