The Four Conference League

The beginning of this year the NHL saw the welcome addition of the Winnipeg Jets who moved from Atlanta. With the addition of the Winnipeg franchise NHL alignment was twisted as the Western location of Winnipeg became an Eastern Conference team. This meant that Winnipeg would constantly have to travel far to play in their own division and other teams that were supposed to play Atlanta had to travel farther. This was just the reality of this year as the short time of the sale did not leave enough time to change the alignment or the schedules. The teams just had to handle this for the current season but the issue of realignment was to be discussed for next year. The realignment was a big issue of debate among everyone who watches and is involved in the NHL as the theories flowed. There were plenty of theories like using a one to one exchange or potentially moving them to the Northwest Division and moving Colorado to the Central and then moving Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. There were many theories on how to change the alignment of the NHL but almost none would solve every problem with at least one team being left out. The alignment was not only as a result of the Jets as they were simply the tipping point in an issue shared by many teams. For years teams have been wanting change in their alignment to reduce travel costs and allow them to play teams closer to them. This realignment issue was finally solved, at least for most, in the Winter Meetings for the NHL. The Directors of the NHL decided on a new alignment to be created for next year and the owners voted to approve it at the meeting. This new alignment will come into effect next season and will create four new conferences based on geographic region. The unnamed conferences, I have made my best attempt at names below, will be the new alignment of the NHL and with this will be a new playoff format. This new format will go as follows as the top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs. With these four teams making the playoffs the playoffs will begin within the conferences before they move to interconference playoffs and the Stanley Cup Finals. There will also be new scheduling as teams will now play every team in the other conferences twice, one home and one away. Inside the conference the 7-team conferences every team would play six times, three at home three away. In the 8 team conferences the teams would play either 5 or 6 times a season and would rotate on a season by season basis. These new conferences will be a big change in the NHL but the big question will be whether or not they will benefit the NHL or hurt it.

Going from East to west we can notice some trends in the new alignment of the NHL as the 6 divisions have essentially stayed the same with two divisions being broken up. In the “Northeast Conference,” my name for it but not official name, the Atlantic Division has remained intact as the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania teams all remain together. They will add Carolina and Washington as Washington will be an easy fit while Carolina will remain an outlier. They are not too far away but are the furthest team to the South and will have the toughest travel schedule out of the new conference. The Caps and Hurricanes will no longer have to travel further south to Florida though which will help them. In the “Eastern Conference” the Northeast division will remain intact with Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, and Ottawa stay together. The rest of the Southeastern conference will join them, save the Winnipeg Jets, as Tampa Bay and Florida will be the outlier’s in the new conference as the farthest south teams but will have some consolation in the fact that they will stay together so that they have the close rivalry games. This conference is a little less neat than most others as the two Florida Teams are much farther south than any other teams but keeping the Florida teams together is essential and the best fit for them is to remain with Eastern Teams. Moving into the former Western Conference the divisions have been split much more than in the East. The “Midwest Conference” the Central Division will stay intact as Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, and Columbus will all stay together. They will be joined by three other teams from different divisions as the Dallas Stars will move from the Pacific Division, Minnesota will move from the Northwest division, and the Winnipeg Jets will move from the Eastern Conference. The only difficult travel in the conference will be for the Dallas Stars who will have to travel to the Midwest regularly and will need to travel to Winnipeg multiple times in certain years. The best part about this conference is the addition of Winnipeg and Minnesota as a built-in rivalry will be seen between these two bordering regions that will see fans travel across the border to see the games. The Final Conference will feature the rest of the Northwest and Pacific conferences as Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Phoenix will remain together and will be joined by the Northwestern teams from Vancouver, Colorado, Edmonton, and Calgary. This conference works out best for Vancouver who will now regularly be able to travel down the West Coast to California instead of always crossing time zones. The Battle of Alberta will also remain intact with Edmonton and Calgary staying together and will play regularly. The Colorado Avalanche are the outlier in this conference as the furthest team to the East and will need to travel out to the west coast more often than usual. The conferences are not perfect but the best part of all of them is that the time zones in each of the conferences are generally the same. The “Eastern Conference” and “Northeastern Conference” will both be located in the Eastern Time Zone. The Midwest Conference will be in the Eastern and Central Time Zones as they will only have to deal with a one hour difference that will help Dallas who regularly had to play in the West Coast, a 2 hour difference. The Pacific Conference will also deal with a one hour difference with the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones. The new conferences will solve the issues of teams wanting to play in these same time zones to prevent poor play do to time differences. Of course the travel is the main issue that has not been completely solves as southern teams will have difficulty in reducing travel costs for their teams but this solution to realignment may be the best solution to the many issues regarding NHL teams. The true test will be next year when the play starts and teams find out how this new conference play will work out.

 

New Conferences (Names are not official)

 

Northeast Conference:

New Jersey Devils

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

New York Rangers

New York Islanders

Washington Capitals

Carolina Hurricanes

 

Eastern Conference:

Boston Bruins

Montreal Canadiens

Toronto Maple Leafs

Ottawa Senators

Buffalo Sabres

Florida Panthers

Tampa Bay Lightning

 

Midwest Conference:

Detroit Red Wings

Columbus Blue Jackets

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Chicago Blackhawks

Minnesota Wild

Dallas Stars

Winnipeg Jets

 

Pacific Conference:

Los Angeles Kings

Anaheim Ducks

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Colorado Avalanche

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