25 February 2013

Breaking down the winners and losers of the NHL's new realignment plan

You are looking at the new realignment plan for the NHL, as broken by the great Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada. As you can recall, the prior realignment plan from the winter of 2011 was rejected by the Players' Association and it looks similar, but it is not quite the same with this new plan, with the most notable being Columbus and Detroit moving to the "Eastern side" of the league. So while this plan is not set in stone, with the pesky NHLPA a looming obstacle, who would benefit and who would not in this new plan?

Detroit Red Wings
As you would expect, the Red Wings are already loving this plan. Detroit has wanted for years to move to the Eastern Conference because they dreaded the late start times. Now they get more reasonable start times for road matchups and now they get to rekindle their rivalry with the Maple Leafs.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Similarly to the Wings, the Blue Jackets will benefit greatly from the Eastern Time Zone opponents, particularly as they were the most east team in the Western Conference. They will also love being in the same division as the Penguins, even if it means losing the Red Wings as a rival, and that should help make for a wild atmosphere at Nationwide Arena when those two play.

Given how much the league has been criticized for not having its stars getting to all markets, this is a huge step in the right direction. It appears that every team will play a home-and-home with teams in the other conferences while clubs in the seven-team conferences will play six times and clubs in the eight-team conferences will play five or six times.

TV Partners
It seems like the television partners in both countries will be extremely happy. NBC and NBC Sports Network will love the matchups between the big market inter-conference rivals, and particularly the lure of a big-market Stanley Cup matchup like between the Rangers and Bruins, for example, would make their year. The Canadian partners will love the Red Wings playing more Canadian opponents yearly, especially as a new deal north of the border will come about after the season.

Winnipeg Jets
Finally, the Jets will no longer play in the Southeast division. And the cherry on top for them has to be the potential of a rivalry with the Wild in-division.

One of the main NHLPA concerns was regarding travel and this new plan appears to cut down on travel as a whole, for the most part. Of course, Florida and Tampa would get the short end of the stick in that regard, and to a lesser extent Colorado, but I think they would appreciate the large fanbases to come to the Sunshine State.

Nashville Predators
Without question, the clear loser in this deal are the Predators. Nashville has been pushing for a move of their own for the Eastern Conference but it was not to be. And not only that, they are losing most of their games with the Red Wings, which were a popular ticket in the Music City.

What this plan leaves is a question mark for future relocation, particularly regarding the Phoenix Coyotes. All of the potential relocation cities, or at least the common-sense ones, would all lie in the "Eastern side," which now has the eight-team conferences, unlike the prior proposal. The league probably knows something we don't with the Coyotes but they did not give themselves a whole lot of leeway.

The one remaining question regarding this new plan is the format for the postseason, which was not released yet, particularly in the conferences with eight teams. Friedman reports that the favored option is some sort of a Wild Card, with some thought going to a crossover plan like in the MLS, where a lower-seeded team with a higher record than a team in another conference could take the place, but the risk of a Florida-Vancouver matchup cooled that idea.

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