|Extremely confused and hardly enthused.|
The league has yet to name each of the four new conferences, so I've taken the liberty of doing so myself:
Quebec Nordiques Memorial Conference: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks
Over-Expansion Division: Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets
The "Two Of These Things Are Not Like The Others" Conference: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadians, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs
Lockout '04-05 Division - People Don't Forget: Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburg Penguins, Washington Capitals
Certainly, there are some positives that emerge from the new conference structuring. For one thing, travel will be vastly reduced for many Western Conference teams that were previously getting the Samuel L. Jackson. Additionally, all teams will play each other at least twice - once per home venue - meaning season ticket holders will get to see every NHL team at least once.
And that's where the list of pros ends. These benefits, however, are in no way worth the sacrifices that the NHL is making. Here are four of the most noticeable problems with the new division alignment:
1) Travel issuess aren't really solved - Upon announcing the new structure, league officials admitted - there is no perfect solution. Exhibit A: see above. While the burden may be lifted for some teams, it has been placed squarely on others. Take a look, for example, at the Northeast/Southeast "Two Of These Things Are Not Like The Others" Conference. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning get to fly straight past Nashville, Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York en route to play their "divisional" matchups against Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Um, what?
2) No other league has a 4-conference structure - Since Wayne Gretzky retired, which if I'm not mistaken happened sometime during the late 1800s, hockey has veered away from the mainstream and cemented a reputation as a niche sport. The infamous TV deal with Versus certainly hasn't helped. If the NHL wants to rebuild a reputation as a major American sports league, then why shy away from the traditional 2-conference structure? This point is essentially your classic peer pressure / "nobody else is doing it" argument. But let's face it: even if he grew up to be a cool guy, there's a reason why no one in elementary school wanted to hang out with the kid who wore corduroys and a sweater-vest every day. NHL, put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt like everybody else.
3) Problems were created where there didn't need to be any - Divisional structure has been a hot-button topic in Major League Baseball as of late. The perceived inequity of having one 4-team division and one 6-team division was so great that baseball bumped Houston to the AL despite the scheduling nightmare it now creates. With this new realignment, however, the NHL has gone in the opposite direction, willingly creating an unnecessary imbalance. Two conferences will now have 7 teams, while the other two will have 8 clubs, which *segway* means serious playoff inequity.
4) Playoffs?!?! - How will the new NHL playoffs be structured??? The league has yet to decide. But don't worry, as was apparently the consensus in the NHL boardroom, that's an issue that can be figured out later. There's even talk of adding a MLB-like play-in round between 4th and 5th place teams because, yeah, the NHL needs more teams in the playoffs. The likely proposal is that the top four teams from each conference will advance to the postseason for 2 rounds of within conference playoff series, followed by some type of final four between each conference champion. This would deprive us of some of the greatest hockey rivalries in later postseason rounds. Detroit vs. Chicago, Boston vs. Montreal, etc could never take place after round 2. For shame, NHL, for shame.