Monday evening brought a seismic shift in the NHL that, in the end, brought things back to the way they used to be. Owners passed a measure that would shift to a four conference structure, in which the four top teams of every conference would reach the playoffs, and most importantly, the teams have a better geographic connection to their conference rivals. Well, at least they do in terms of their time zone. Montreal and Miami aren’t exactly next door.
If there is any often acknowledged problem with the new set up, it’s that there are two conferences with 7 teams, while the westernmost conferences have 8 teams. With the questionable fairness of that set up out of the way, here are a few decided advantages that the realignment offers, starting with the hidden ones the 7 team conferences pose.
Better postseason ratings – It would take a minor miracle for the New York area to be left wanting when it comes to the post season. Only three teams in their conference will miss the playoffs every year, so it would take pretty rotten luck for the Rangers, Islanders AND Devils to all get shut out. In fact, all of the major markets, from Toronto to Boston to Montreal to Philadelphia will have a better chance to to make the post season, and having all those eyes on the Playoffs is definitely good news for the NHL.
Expansion – Believe it or not, but I think NHL expansion is right around the corner. The two most discussed markets for expansion have been Quebec City and Hamilton, Ontario, and now there is a ready made spot for each potential team. Even of the expansion happens but Kansas City gets a team, rather than Quebec or Hamilton, the NHL is still in a good spot to move Detroit to a different conference to make room for a KC franchise, ensuring another big market playing against other big markets.
The Coyotes – Realignment would be a breeze, relatively speaking, if the Coyotes wanted to move. In this scenario, Hamilton, Quebec AND Kansas City end up with teams. This would mean one team would have to move west, and I would believe that the Jets would be that team, if only to compete with three other Canadian teams, whereas they have none right now. Of course, life gets even easier if the Coyotes were to move to Seattle, in which case no further realignment is needed.
The practical reasons – Of course, there are the matters of playing every team an equitable amount of times, and the less harrowing travel for the east coast, all of which Manny Budinger discussed when the plan was discussed. While it is nice that this works out practically, one has to believe this is the first step of a bold reimagining of the NHL.