In the next few days, we might actually have some serious progression in the realignment talks. The Board of Governors are going to discuss that (among other things) in the next few days in Pebble Beach, Calif. ... assuming they can stay off the links.
Entering the meetings, there appeared to be two principle ideas at play in the realignment talks. The first was the simplest, moving Winnipeg to the West and putting Detroit in the Southeast, a one-way swap and that's it. Simple, clean-cut, but a bit messy when it's done. Teams in the West don't want to lose the Red Wings and they don't exactly seem to fit with the Southeast Division.
That led to a lot of people favoring a more "total realignment" in which the six-division format would be blown up in favor of a four-division look and balanced schedule. Heading into the meetings, this was considered to be the proposal for the four-division look. But the Penguins and Flyers weren'texactly on board with that one.
Now we have another idea floating, according to Elliote Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada. This one is the same concept as the previous four-conference (notice the change in language) look, it just moves the teams separately. Notice how the Flyers and Penguins stay together along with the New York-area, Atlantic Division teams while Washington and Carolina join them. That leaves the five Northeast Division teams to join the two remaining Southeast Division teams in Florida, the Panthers and Lightning.
What's interesting to notice is that, in continuing to view it as an East and a West, the West becomes the bigger "conference." The two divisions with eight teams would be made up by the teams already in the West and Winnipeg, the reason for the card shuffling.
There is only so much you can do with the teams in the East while trying to keep the ones smack dab in the middle, geographically speaking, together. It does seem a bit inconvenient to put the two teams from Florida with the Canadian and Northeast teams. They already travel a lot, this would probably only increase that.
But they might fit a little better than you would originally think. There are large snowbird populations in Florida during the hockey season, and having lived in South Florida for nine years, I can tell you a lot of them hail from Quebec. Try and get tickets the day before a Canadiens-Panthers game at the BankAtlantic Center. You can't (at least through traditional means), the game will be sold out.
So this now begins to look like a slam dunk, right? The Red Wings at least get their home-and-home series with every team in the league, the Stars get into a more time-zone friendly "conference" and the playoffs return to their old divisional format and there is flexibility for a possible move of the Coyotes. All is good, right?
Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that while they don't actually have a say in the matter, the NHL Players Association isn't fond of the plan. The reason? This will increase travelling for just about every team. That's one argument.
The other is the unfair nature of two divisions of eight and two divisions of seven. The teams in the seven-division format have greater odds to make the postseason. That's one reason why baseball recently flipped the Houston Astros to the American League West, to even out the odds of postseason play.
But something has to get done. No plan will sit well with every team involved, that's obvious. Remember, they just need to get a 2/3 majority among the BOG to push through a plan.
This one here seems as good as any. You could be looking at the future alignment of the NHL.