NHL realignment: New system raises valid complaints

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL officially revealed several changes for the 2013-14 season. This generated mixed reviews amongst fans.

The NHL formally announced the 2013-14 regular season schedule on Friday afternoon. This announcement coincided with the revealing of the 'Metropolitan' Division, league realignment and playoff format alteration. Based upon reaction in the comment sections on SB Nation and in my twitter feed, it seems as though fans are dissatisfied with the changes.

For the most part, I have a hard time disagreeing with any one who is unhappy with the NHL's decisions. At the same time, I understand why the NHL made those decisions, even though I'm not completely onboard with them.

In terms of the Metropolitan Division, a name is a name. By December, it will be as normal as the other division names and I think fans will get used to it fairly quickly. However, I was a proponent of re-naming the divisions after NHL legends. Doing so would be such a wonderful tribute to the history of the game and would avoid the unconventional nature of the Eastern-based divisions. I can't think of a logical defense for why the NHL wouldn't pursue this option. The concept was discussed on a national level by prominent journalists, television personalities and writers. The NHL had to be aware of it, but ultimately ignored it.

Division realignment was going to be an issue, because it's always been an issue. That's due to Detroit and Columbus being in awkward locations compared to the other NHL franchises. Based upon the accounts I've heard/read, Detroit has been promised a move East for years. It sounded as if the Red Wings were doing the league a favor by staying in the West, despite the time zone difference. Once realignment was in the works, Detroit was ready to cash in on a move East.

I'm on the East coast and find staying up for West coast games to be difficult. I have to be up early for work and need to decide whether I'll sacrifice sleep for the pleasure of watching a late night game. For Red Wings fans, that's not a fair situation to be put in on a regular basis.

The same goes for Columbus. Of course, it seems as though other factors played a role in the Blue Jackets heading East. I'm by no means an expert on this, so this speculative theory might be off base, but moving Columbus to a division with Pittsburgh might help develop a traditional rival for the Blue Jackets. I can't think of a team that I associate as the bitter rival of the Blue Jackets. I think Pittsburgh could become that, especially if the two meet in the playoffs over the next few years.

I think the biggest miscue of this whole situation is the playoff format. Finding a way to explain the playoffs has become so much more difficult with the system they have in place. For casual fans, I don't think that's a good thing. Regardless, the new system will provide more division-based match-ups, which could help develop rivalries. However, conference championship games will no longer feature such contests, unless one of the wild card teams gets hot at the right time and is paired with the opposite division for the first two rounds (again, this will be a nightmare to explain).

Of course, playoff series don't have to include a bunch of division-centric match-ups to be entertaining. When I was a kid, my two favorite playoff match-ups featured the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Colorado Avalanche against the Detroit Red Wings. Those two series didn't feature division rivals and I still look back fondly enough to write about them 15 years later.

At the end of the day, good hockey will eclipse any issue fans might have with the adjustments to the NHL. Most times, it seems as though we respond negatively to change. I know I do on occasion. As time goes on, I assume we will all come to some level of acceptance with the 'new' NHL.

Of course, by the time we do, they'll likely have two markets ready for expansion because we all know the league will have 32 teams sooner than later.

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