By Allan Muir
Will Columbus vs. Detroit be an Eastern Conference matchup next season? [Jay LaPrete/AP]
During Hockey Night In Canada's Hot Stove segment last night, Elliotte Friedman revealed what he says is the NHL's most recent plan for realigning the league into a four-conference set up.
At first glance, it makes a lot of sense...especially for a pair of Eastern time zone teams currently trapped in the Western Conference, and a Southeastern club that needs to be shifted west.
Friedman reported the Detroit Red Wings would move to an eight-team conference with Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Florida and Tampa Bay.
The second new Eastern grouping would see the Columbus Blue Jackets move east to join the Rangers, Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey and Carolina.
There also would be two seven-team conferences. One, primarily Central time grouping would see Winnipeg joining Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis and Nashville, while Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim would populate the other.
This wins on so many levels, particularly the move of Detroit to conference one. It reunites four of the Original Six teams. It reignites the old Toronto/Detroit rivalry. And while it would mean extra travel for Florida and Tampa Bay, the plan would bring marquee opponents to these attendance trouble spots on a regular basis.
Most important, it removes the league's most onerous travel/TV schedule from one of its cornerstone franchises.
"It'd be unbelievable," Jimmy Howard told the Detroit Free Press "The travel takes years off of all our lives.
"We know how to deal with it, we've traveled back-and-forth across the United States quite a bit, but to move to the East, I think that would be a lot of fun. That would be great for our fans, too, not having to stay up till all hours of the night to watch us."
Columbus also would benefit from a steady diet of eastern time zone opponents, and while they'd sacrifice a key rival in Detroit they'd gain a new one in Pittsburgh. Winnipeg would bring in a more natural rival in Minnesota while ditching its old Atlanta Thrashers ties. Washington returns to the old Patrick Division stomping grounds (giving us more Caps-Pens matchups). The Stars escape the PST starts that killed their TV ratings.
But the big win might be in the scheduling. Sources suggest every team would play a home-and-home with clubs in the other conferences. Clubs in the seven-team conferences would play six times (three home, three away). Teams in the eight-team conferences would play either five or six times on a rotating basis. Three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times.
That works, right? It gives fans in every city a reliable opportunity to see all the stars the league has to offer--something the league has been criticized for failing to make happen in the past--and it creates a breeding ground for more natural, and more intense, rivalries...especially if the playoff format is built around inter conference battles.
There was no way to make everyone happy, of course, and in this scenario the loser looks to be Nashville, though not in a crushing way. The Preds expressed a preference for moving to the East, which won't happen, and they lose a popular rival in Detroit. That will hurt, but it is all part of the greater good being served.
While this plan should win approval of the Board of Governors at their upcoming meeting, it still needs to pass the scrutiny of the NHLPA. That's no sure thing given their surprising rejection of the previous realignment proposal back in December, 2011.
But it appears to address their primary concern: reducing travel. And while the details have yet to be finalized, Friedman said a wild-card system would be introduced as a way of leveling the playing field so that clubs playing in either a seven- or eight-team conference would have essentially the same chance of making the playoffs. That was another problem the PA had with the original plan.
Other details regarding the postseason are sketchy, although it's thought the conference format would create some compelling options with reseeding starting in the semifinals. The Rangers, for instance, could meet the Canadiens in the Final, or Chicago could play Vancouver.
That sounds pretty tasty.
The plan looks like a winner from this vantage point. Agree? Disagree? Let's hear what you think