It seems the occasions are too few and far between when we can say the National Hockey League got something right but they did exactly that with realignment. They could have taken the easy way out, (as I said I would have earlier this season) by moving Winnipeg to the Central Division and bringing Detroit or Columbus into the East but they went with a more radical plan that I believe is in the best interests of the league, not just a handful of teams.
Many of the existing rivalries have been maintained with the 3 New York City area teams as well as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh remaining together in one of the four new conferences. The Southeast division was blown up but who cares? Adding Washington to what is currently referred to as Conference D makes life much more interesting.
The Northeast Division stays together which is a good thing and in come Tampa Bay and Florida. I’ll take those two teams any day of the week over other proposals that included Detroit and/or Pittsburgh joining Conference C.
Detroit and Columbus don’t move East but with the new set up and scheduling, they will have fewer trips out west and fewer road games with late start times back home. Winnipeg joining the teams in Conference B makes perfect geographical sense as does the addition of Dallas which is much happier getting out of the Pacific Division. Sure the teams in the East will face a bit more travel but trying to take an unselfish approach to this, it’s been way too tough on the teams in the Western Conference in both regular and post season travel.
As far as the schedule itself, you will still have division rivalries. The Sabres will face the other six teams in their conference 6 times each. You have a perfect balance outside of that with a home and home series against the other 23 clubs.
Still to be determined is the playoff format and that’s where my happiness will end if they go with intra conference matchups for the first two rounds. Yes, there is something to be said for the intensity and excitement of two rounds against teams you have built up a strong dislike for during the regular season but I like variety. Going back to the days of the Adams Division, playoff matchups with Boston and Montreal could be riveting but I wasn’t really fired up to see the Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques that often in the post season. There were also times I wished the Sabres weren’t facing the Bruins or Canadiens because I felt they’d have a better chance getting out of the first round by meeting another team. But when all is said and done, the league will see a reduction in travel which should make for fresher players, a shot in the arm to enhance rivalries and perhaps, less people complaining when they jack up playoff ticket prices because of the attractiveness of the matchups in the first two rounds.