DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 01: Andrew Raycroft #30 of the Dallas Stars walks to the ice before a game against the Ottawa Senators at American Airlines Center on December 1, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The NHL's new alignment impacts each team in its own way. We break things down on a team-by-team basis, judging who the winners and losers of the process were in the end.
There was one overarching theme throughout the several month long debate on NHL realignment: You're not going to be able to please every single team.
While that held out in the end, with the NHL's Board of Governors reportedly voting 26 to 4 in favor of the radical four-conference plan, it's impressive to see just how much support the idea did pick up. It only needed 20 of 30 votes to pass, and there were questions as recently as Monday afternoon on whether or not those votes could be had.
Obviously, it wasn't all that difficult after all.
So as we wait to find out exactly who the four Grinches are here, let's take a team-by-team look at how this NHL realignment plan impacts each team.
It's these teams that this plan was partially constructed to help. With the balanced schedule, the teams will have to travel to the East Coast more often, but by eliminating the Dallas Stars from the Pacific Division, they remove two trips there each season. It's replaced by an extra trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, so the net gain might not be all that great, but they'll no longer be playing divisional games two time zones away. That's a big boost.
Rivalries? All still there. Just ask Battle of California.
The travel situation is really the big gain for these guys too. Instead of 15 games played in the Central Time Zone (or beyond) each season, these guys will play a vast majority of their games on their half on the continent. That's absolutely huge, especially for a team like the Canucks that's so far away from everything.
Rivalries all stay intact, unless you think about Winnipeg. Poor, poor Winnipeg. And that whole Chicago vs. Vancouver thing that's only a few years old. Yeah, that's gone too. Sad.
Matchsticks & Gasoline basically summed it up for these teams, though: "This is a pretty inconsequential event compared to some clubs out there."
(Yes, we realize Calgary and Edmonton are in the Mountain Time Zone too. But that's Canada. It's different or something.)
These two teams are rather isolated in comparison to just about all of the competition (although Colorado much more so than Phoenix) so it's tough to change their travel all that much. All in all, the change isn't that huge for these guys, at least not compared to many other teams. The Detroit-Colorado rivalry has waned over the last decade or so, so the fact that they'll only play twice a year doesn't seem like a huge deal.
Coyotes fans aren't exactly thrilled with all the extra attention from Canada, though, and Avalanche fans are worried about their chances at making the playoffs under this format. This is going to be a ridiculously tough conference in a few seasons, and it's already tough now.
Of course, every former Pacific and Northwestern team loves the idea of having money-making teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers coming to visit every season. That's a plus you can't underestimate.
The chief concern of the Blackhawks was never really on the travel front, given the proximity of so many teams near them in the Central Time Zone. But with the addition of Winnipeg and Minnesota to their conference, travel doesn't get any harder for Chicago.
The real worry from Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was losing the rivalry with Detroit, should the team have moved to one of the Eastern-based conferences. They're staying put, and that's wonderful music to the Blackhawks' ears.
The same can be said for the St. Louis Blues. They keep their natural rivals in both Chicago and Detroit, while travel doesn't change much. They even pick up the extra foe in the Dallas Stars, and that's a rivalry that has a chance to really take off.
Predators blog On the Forecheck really drives home the selling points for a small-market, low-spending Western team under this new format. It's one that has broad appeal with just about any team that fits that mold:
For the Nashville Predators, the critical point here seems to be maintaining their rivalry with Detroit (and the pretty-much-guaranteed sellouts those bring), as well as more exposure to teams in the East. Every season, we'll be able to see the stars from all over the league come to Bridgestone Arena, which is an easier ticket to sell than "here come the Coyotes once again"!
MOST TO GAIN: Dallas Stars.
The Stars, by virtue of simple geography, have some of the toughest travel in the NHL. These problems were only more pronounced when the team played in the Pacific Division -- a team in the Central Time Zone playing almost all of its divisional road games not just one time zone away, but two time zones away.
Now, Dallas moves into a conference where five of its seven competitors are in the same time zone, a drastic switch. It's tough to build up a young fan base when games a good chunk of important hockey games are started between 9 and 10 p.m. local time. That's generally a thing of the past now for the Stars.
The big chatter before this whole proposal came out was around how the Blue Jackets and Red Wings were angling to move to the Eastern Conference. As the only two teams in the West that are based in the Eastern Time Zone, there are problems there for both clubs when it comes to start times.
Under the new system, there really is no such thing as "East" and "West", but despite the fact that these teams won't be moving into one of the two Eastern-based conferences, they both seem very happy with the outcome. Let's just let members of the Wings organization do the talking:
"It's a dream come true for the Detroit Red Wings and its fans," Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano told DetroitRedWings.com in a phone interview Monday night. "Our fans now will get to see every team in the NHL at least once every year. Our fans will have far fewer games starting at 10:40 at night, far fewer. And that will especially hold true in the playoffs because in the first two-rounds we will be playing teams relatively close to Detroit with Dallas or maybe Winnipeg being the furthest ones."
"Six-months ago our thought was that we wanted to be in the east," Wings general manager Ken Holland told the NHL Network. "But after looking at this alternative and the four regions, and after talking with Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, and Jimmy D, and Tom Wilson and Chris Ilitch, we felt that this was a great compromise, and I would say that we're happy."
"A great compromise." Jackets fans are not quite that pleased, but they definitely see the new system as a strong improvement on the status quo.
Besides, did we really want Detroit or Columbus in the Southeast Division anyway?
Did you know that Minneapolis and Winnipeg are only 456 miles apart? With my East Coast Bias and everything, I tend to think Winnipeg is in the Arctic Circle, but Minnesota is the closest team to the Jets, and aligning the two in the same conference makes total sense. Remember back to the Norris Division days. This could be a lot of fun.
Add in what should be a natural rivalry -- based on relocation history -- between the Wild and the Dallas Stars and this new "Central Conference" looks like it could be another ridiculously tough, yet awesome grouping.
Glancing at the map, it looks like Florida and Tampa are getting completely screwed here. In a sense, they certainly are, as their travel will increase by a whoooooole lot. But a lot has been said about the ole "Snowbird Effect," and the fact that many of their new conference rivals come from large Northern cities with displaced fan bases in Florida.
All in all, Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa will come to Florida one more time each season, while other money-drawing teams like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Rangers will come one fewer time per season. Washington will come two fewer times per year. The effect on the bottom line won't be that grand, but those extra Toronto and Montreal games alone might help enough to mitigate the impact.
If there are losers in this realignment plan, however, they reside in the Sunshine State.
Nothing really changes for this set. Travel might increase a bit with the extra trips to Florida, but they're going to Florida in the middle of winter. They don't get to complain. All the regional rivalries of the current Northeast Division remain intact, and can you imagine some of those playoff battles we'll see between these teams? /excited
UHHHH WHAT'D WE GET OURSELVES INTO: Carolina Hurricanes.
Another big time loser here might be the Hurricanes. Well, okay, let's pull that back a little bit. They lose on the ice for certain, as they get lumped into a conference with not just one high-spending rival in the Capitals, but now five of them. The New York Islanders don't spend, but they're going to be a very strong team in a few years if the youth movement keeps progressing.
Off the ice, they'll certainly benefit from the added visits of the New York teams, Philly and Pittsburgh. Building rivalries with those teams, especially in an area like Raleigh that a lot of Northerners call home, could be a boon to hockey in North Carolina. But that remains to be seen.
Immediately speaking, it's looking tough for the 'Canes to compete here.
THANK GOD: Washington Capitals.
Sure, on the ice it might have been lovely for the Capitals in the Southeast Division the last several years. But ask any Caps fan in D.C. and they'll tell you they've yearned for the old Patrick Division dream they once were a part of. There were no natural rivals for the Caps in the Southeast. Suddenly, the team is back with everybody it still loves to hate: Philly, Pittsburgh, New York.
For these teams, the changes are minimal. A little extra travel with the balanced schedule, but nothing that an Eastern team gets to complain about. All the regional rivalries stay intact, and get amped up quite a bit with the new playoff format.
Making the playoffs will get a little harder, as there are at least five legitimate, perennial playoff contenders in the grouping, but the Patrick Division was always a ton of fun, and as the most-regional of all these regional conferences, this one has the greatest chance of turning into a blood bath every single season.