Most NHL observers see the newly proposed Conference D -- or the reconstituted Patrick Division, if you will -- as one of the stronger conferences under the realignment approved by the NHL Board of Governors. But if the NHL season ended today, that would actually be the lone conference sending an "inferior" team to the NHL playoffs.
According to the NHL standings after Tuesday night's games -- we'll use points percentage, since teams haven't played an even number of games -- the Washington Capitals have the 19th-best points percentage but the fourth-best in the proposed Conference D. (They win the current tiebreaker with their Conference D brothers, the New Jersey Devils.) In a sense, the Capitals playoff appearance would come at the expense of the Dallas Stars, who hold the league's 13th-best points percentage thus far.
If the season ended today under the new conference setup, the Capitals would visit familiar foe and top Conference D seed the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. That would be a rematch of last year's first round, as well as the first round from 2009, Washington's only playoff series win in the Alex Oveckhin era.
The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks would also repeat a matchup from 2010-11 -- only this time they'd do it in the first round as Conference A's first and fourth seeds, instead of in the third round like last year.
Other familiar matchups:
The Chicago Blackhawks would host a longtime rival in the St. Louis Blues. The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins would go at it again as Conference D's second and third seeds -- and, it must be said, as the league's fourth- and fifth-best teams by potential points earned.
The full list of would-be matchups if the season ended Tuesday, Dec. 6:
Minnesota Wild (.696) host St. Louis Blues (.611)
Chicago Blackhawks (.643) host Detroit Red Wings (.635)
Left out: Dallas Stars (.596), currently holding the 13th-best points percentage in the league.
New York Rangers (.688) host Washington Capitals (.519)
Philadelphia Flyers (.660) host Pittsburgh Penguins (.643)
What If This Realignment Existed in 2010-11?
Alright, that's how things would look in a make-believe 28-game (or so) schedule this season. What if the NHL alignment had been in place last year?
Disregarding that teams' schedules would be different based on the new format, here is how the playoff pairings of 2010-11 would've shaken out. Only one team who made it last year, the Los Angeles Kings, would've been bumped in favor of a team that barely missed out, the Dallas Stars who finished three points behind the Kings in 2010-11.
And while every first-round playoff matchup would've been different from what actually happened in 2010-11, almost every would-be pairing is a playoff matchup we've seen under the existing conference setup.
Vancouver Canucks (117 points) host Phoenix Coyotes (99). Never met in the playoffs before.
San Jose Sharks (105) host Anaheim Ducks (99). Last playoff meeting: 2009 Conference Quarterfinals.
Detroit Red Wings (104) hosts Dallas Stars (95). Last playoff meeting: 2008 Conference Finals.
Nashville (99) hosts Chicago Blackhawks (97). Last playoff meeting: 2010 Conference Quarterfinals.
Boston Bruins (103) host Buffalo Sabres (96). Last playoff meeting: 2010 Conference Quarterfinals
Tampa Bay Lightning (96) host Montreal Canadiens (96). Last playoff meeting: 2004 Conference Semifinals
Left out: Toronto Maple Leafs (85), Ottawa Senators (74), Florida Panthers (72)
Washington Capitals (107) host New York Rangers (93). Last playoff meeting: 2011 Conference Quarterfinals
Pittsburgh Penguins (106) host Philadelphia Flyers (106). Last playoff meeting: 2009 Conference Quarterfinals
The new NHL realignment should stoke some intense rivalries and a little bit of controversy. But in many cases the foes will be, well, familiar.