So long, Chicago. So long, Minnesota! Canuck pros and cons of realignment

I always assumed that NHL General Manager meetings were like Interfraternity conferences, where all the men tell their wives they’re going to be in dry seminars all day and then rent out the top floor of a hotel and party the weekend away. But, it would appear that things actually get done at these meetings: yesterday, the NHL GMs approved a drastic divisional realignment that would dissolve the 6 current divisions in favour of 4 more geographically appropriate groupings.

Needless to say, this completely changes the landscape of both the NHL regular season and playoffs. It’s kind of a big deal. But what does this mean for the Canucks and their fans? Like the Provincial Convention of Professional Conmen*, there are plenty of pros and cons.

PRO - Eastern Conference teams will visit once a season. West coast hockey fans have long griped about the fact that many of the game’s biggest names (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin) only come around once every three years. They need not gripe any longer. Under the realignment format, every NHL team will play a home and home, meaning Canuck fans will get an opportunity to see every NHL superstar in Rogers Arena each year. Hooray!

CON - That includes the Carolina Hurricanes. Let’s be honest. While the complaint about the rarity with which we see the sexy players is a valid one, there are many other teams in the East besides those which employ Crosby and Ovechkin. Several of these teams are what the kids call “cruddy”, and we’ll have to see them more often too. Are you really that excited about two dispirited games with the Carolina Hurricanes or the Florida Panthers? As for me, I prefer to see Florida’s stars when they’re traded to Vancouver.

NHL.com realignment map.

PRO – The travel is a little more balanced out. Another major complaint of teams in the West? The gruelling travel schedule. While many of the Eastern teams are a short jaunt from one another, even the NHL cities closest to Vancouver are quite a ways away. It’s been argued that the extra travel for Western Conference teams adds to fatigue late in the postseason. With the Eastern teams coming out this way a lot more often, that argument should be put to bed.

CON - The Canucks will travel East more often too. There are a number of good reasons to celebrate the Eastern teams coming West, but Canuck games in the East often cause headaches for fans. More games will have a 4pm puck drop, which is always annoying. That’s nap time. And for people that don’t work from home, that’s, y’know, work time.

PRO - We will rarely see the Minnesota Wild. All that said, I will gladly take every negative element to more cross-continent games if it means fewer games with the Minnesota Wild. The Wild are now an out-of-conference opponent, meaning we will see them only twice a year, as opposed to six bloody times. This is the proest pro of all. A playoff matchup is highly unlikely as well, since it could only happen in the third round. Huzzah!

CON - So long, Chicago/Vancouver rivalry. The connest con? After climaxing in last year’s playoffs, the brilliant rivalry between the Blackhawks and Canucks has just reached its refractory period. Like Minnesota, the Blackhawks will also be moving to another conference. Beginning next year, it will be impossible for the Canucks and Blackhawks to play each other 10 or more times, as they have the past three seasons. The animosity is sure to cool. Considering this has become the NHL’s best rivalry, it may be the biggest loss of realignment.

PRO - Awesome new rivalries are on the way. When you’re finished pouring a forty for the rivalry with Chicago, please recall that it wasn’t that long ago that the Canucks’ best rivalry was with the Calgary Flames. What changed? The Flames stopped being competitive. Meanwhile, the Canucks endured multiple playoff matchups with a team that was. Bearing that in mind, it won’t be too long before another team fills Chicago’s place in our hearts the same way. Vancouver and San Jose are going to have to go through one another every year now, and the seeds of dislike are already there. The Kings and the Canucks don’t quite get on. Even the Oilers are beginning to get good, and once they are, that rivalry is going to heat up. There are all sorts of possibilities in the new 8-team conference.

CON - The 8-team conference. Speaking of, the new conference format creates two 8-team conference and two 7-team conferences, with four from each conference making the playoffs. This means that the teams in the 8-team conferences will have to crawl over one extra franchise to get into the playoffs, and the Canucks are in one of those conferences. Still, I’ve always hated people who gripe about the rules for making the postseason. If you aren’t one of the top teams in your conference you hardly deserve to be there anyway; you were only included to fill a quota. In that sense, nothing has changed: to make the playoffs, you have to be one of the best teams. Sure, in the 8-team conference you have to be better than more, but you’re supposed to be better than most.

PRO - The first two rounds of the playoffs are going to be intense. As much as I enjoy watching the Canucks take on an unfamiliar opponent every now and then, the most enjoyable playoff series are between two teams with a history, and the new playoff format ensures that the first two rounds will always feature teams with the history. No more yawn-inducing series with the Nashville Predators. These affairs are going to be battles.

So what am I missing, Canuck fans? What do you like and dislike about the new realignment?

*While there is no such convention, doesn’t a Pro-Con-Pro-Con sound like a ton of fun?

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27 comments

  1. bergberg
    December 6, 2011

    I think the rivalries (both as pros and cons) are going to be one of the biggest impacts of this new alignment. I was quite devastated at the loss of the Chicago rivalry, but you have raised my spirits with hopes of some new in-conference rivalries. I can’t help but feel that it is a bit limiting now that all our potential rivals are going to be the 8 teams along the west coast, when there is a whole league of teams (some of which might make more entertaining rivals) out there!

    I’m also not sure about the first two rounds of the playoffs. You make the point that they will be more intense, but I have fears that we will be facing the same couple of teams year after year (and beating them, obviously – :) ) causing it to become too repetitive. Although, I guess that regular playoff meetings is also how the Chicago rivalry was born….

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  2. Matt Fisher
    December 6, 2011

    > *While there is no such convention, doesn’t a Pro-Pro-Con-Con sound like a ton of fun?

    Very clever, but don’t you mean a “Pro-Con-Pro-Con? Maybe something got broke on the translation. ;-)

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  3. zach
    December 6, 2011

    *except that the 8/7 conference format seems to solely benefit the Eastern conference as both 7 team conferences are in the East – http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/NHL-approves-4-conference-realignment-new-playo?urn=nhl-wp19063&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

    But, otherwise I agree the biggest con will be the lost early round battles against the hawks.

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    • gog
      December 6, 2011

      You probably won’t have Phoenix in your conference for very long. There’s some room for them in Quebec and in the “Northeast Florida Conference” (…) once they eventually relocate….

      And it would’ve made a ton of sense to put Columbus in the Atlantic Division (I totally support that as a Rangers fan, free points!), but it’s kinda impossible to make something like this perfect.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 6, 2011

      Yeah, I definitely think the groups were set up the way they were because the league has some idea of where Phoenix will be next year (somewhere East of Arizona) and now they can jump divisions without bumping someone else out.

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  4. brent
    December 6, 2011

    I also think the canucks have one of the better conferences, in terms of entertainment value: The California teams are uniformly fun to watch; any Vancouver-Flames/Oilers game is going to be interesting; Colorado has young talent and a fun historic rivalry; only Phoenix is kind of sub par but… well lets just say the Canucks might be in a 7 team division before too long.

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  5. Balsilie's Ghost
    December 6, 2011

    Being in an 8-man conference is one thing. Being in an 8-man conference featuring Phoenix is another. The smart bet is for them to move to one of the eastern conferences – and soon. That would leave the Canucks with an even better travel schedule, and a 7-team conference.

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  6. Innovation
    December 6, 2011

    I think that in a couple of years, you’ll replace Chicago with San Jose and/or Edmonton.

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  7. zach
    December 6, 2011

    Its kind of ironic that the league has sworn that its in their best interests to keep the team in Phoenix, yet as you have pointed out the conference set up is probably due to the fact that Phoenix will likely relocate within a year or two. To be honest I never thought about Phoenix when I first looked at the set up, but it makes a lot more sense now. Yet, I’m sure the Nucks will love the new travel schedule as it means a lot more games within their own time zone, and for obvious reasons during the playoffs it will be a huge benefit of the new system.

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  8. Dane
    December 6, 2011

    I do not like it one little bit.

    I like that we will see every team twice a year. But I don’t like that teams that we used to see four times, are limited to 2. I am open to new rivalries. I would love a big heated canucks v sharks/kings/ducks/oilers/flames rivalry but I don’t like that it’s limited to 7 other teams. And then, we have to see them again in the playoffs the first 2 rounds? It could be really big, really exciting! But then it may get boring and I’ll want to see Chicago again, or Detroit or the jets for some reason. As Bergberg said, seeing these teams so often could get very repetitive and potentially boring.

    I understand the need to have more games in the same time zone from both the fans and the clubs perspective, but living in a country on the other side of the planet where EVERY game is during ‘work time’, for me, that argument is moot. I am concentrating more on the excitement of the games, the product on the ice. Heck, even the players could get tired of seeing the same teams so often.

    It could go either way. Personally I’m not keen on it as I see it overall as very limiting.

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  9. Joe
    December 6, 2011

    I love the blog but I never comment on it, you pretty much forced me to break that trend with comments like “As for me, I prefer to see Florida’s stars when they’re traded to Vancouver” and “When you’re finished pouring a forty for the rivalry with Chicago”

    Well done, keep up the good work.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 6, 2011

      Ha. Why thank you.

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  10. Jeremy
    December 6, 2011

    The fairest possible system would have no divisions or conferences. Every team would play every other team in the league an equal (as equal as possible, and randomized for the extras) number of times per year, then have the playoff seeding determined by those standings: top 16 teams make the playoffs, 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, etc. You might get fewer rivalries, but it would be fair, and the teams making the final rounds of the playoffs would be more likely to actually be the best teams.

    The league will never do that, and the travel load would be ridiculous, but by using fairness as the measuring stick, this realignment is actually worse (less fair) than the current system, which at least re-seeds among the 15 teams in a conference. Over time we’ll see stronger conferences and weaker conferences, and it will be a huge piss-off to see a strong team in a strong conference miss the playoffs while a weak team gets in as 4th place in a weak conference…and plays a 1st place team in the first round that may be worse than a strong team that didn’t even make the cut in a stronger conference. Nice for the average teams in weak conferences, I guess, but it will be more common to see cup favourites in stronger conferences that don’t even make it out of the first two rounds.

    Looks like the 5th place team in the Canucks’ conference will always get screwed over, most likely being a team that would have ranked 3rd or 4th in any other conference.

    Having the Florida teams lumped with the eastern Canadian teams seems like total geographic lunacy. And not with Carolina? wtf? Swap Pit/Phi with TB/Flo and it would at least make some sort of sense.

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  11. ali
    December 6, 2011

    as a math teacher, i have to point out that a 4 in 7 chance is significantly better than a 4 in 8 chance. and everyone knows that once you get in the playoffs all bets are off. a lower seeded team can make it to the finals (and quite possibly win the cup). if it didn’ matter than much, than why not give the 8 team conferences to the east.

    they already have a travel advantage. now they have higher odds too.

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  12. clearthesmoke
    December 6, 2011

    Has anyone told Toronto they’re not in conference A yet?

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  13. Brosef Stalin
    December 6, 2011

    It may just be wishful thinking on my part, but look closely and what do you notice about where the NHL is putting the larger divisions?

    Phoenix moves to QC once the arena is completed (let’s be honest, their isn’t much choice here unless the NHL wants to keep losing money). Suddenly the NE has 8 teams. Atlantic and West-West have 7 teams each now. The divisions are still ‘unfair’. Why not consider expanding by two teams to popular markets? (Assuming that franchises like Columbus & Dallas benefit from better start times (and hopefully better teams) and continue to grow in the market. Don’t even lump Florida in here, rats will rain once they start hitting playoffs again)

    NHL teams could potentially expand to any of these places

    Quebec City (will probably have Phoenix moved there… Or if GB finds a buyer for them simply expand to QC)

    Seattle (Would need a new arena, but the market is there I think)

    Toronto #2

    Give it 10 years to grow and hell, maybe even Saskatchewan could get a team (seeing as the CFL wouldn’t really conflict with overall attendance)

    Kansas City -

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    • JDM
      December 6, 2011

      I don’t know why Kansas is such a bandied about option for expansion. For my money they are a guaranteed “Atlanta the sequel”. It didn’t work the first time, it won’t work the second, this is not the state of hockey, it’s not a rabid Canadian market. Forget about it.

      Sasky is still 15-20 years out; if they turn into the “new Calgary” once the mining sector (and O&G) light up, then they’ll have a team there for sure.

      Places where new teams would work are Markham with the new rink, QC, possibly Hartford, possibly Seattle but I honestly think Portland has a shot in that they have the arena and there’s a good grassroots fanbase there for the Winterhawks.

      Nonetheless, I’d still rather see contraction or moves from bad hockey markets like TBay, Miami, Carolina, Columbus and Phoenix than new teams springing up (Dallas has temporary life because of new ownership). The non-traditional-markets experiment worked in some places (Nashville, Anaheim, San Jose) but in others you really just have to cut your losses.

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  14. JDM
    December 6, 2011

    Notwithstanding that Phoenix is assumed to be moving in the not-too-distant future (and not a moment too soon), this whole conference imbalance problem is so easily fixed. It’s the CFL solution: if a 5th seeded team in West-Conference-X has more points than a 4th seeded team in East-Conference-Y, just flip the 5th seed into that conference for playoff purposes. Hey look, crazy unexpected playoff matchups! Drama! Intrigue! Okay, annoying travel consequences, but no worse than first round series that can currently occur (Det-SJ, Dal-Edm, Van-Min, etc.)

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  15. Crazzysimon
    December 6, 2011

    Not a bad alignment overall, especially when new rivalries with San Jose, LA and (in a year or two) Edmonton would make some great games in the playoffs. Not sure how I’ll like the regular season format though — 42 games within our own conference and only 2 home-and-home games with the rest of the teams in the league seems kind of too… polarizing, especially considering the rivalry we have with Chicago and to a lesser extent, Nashville and Detroit.

    That said, I still really wish that Minnesota, Nashville, New Jersey and Tampa Bay could be grouped in one conference just to see what happens when they trap the hell out of each other. Throw in Philadelphia for good measure and the fun really starts.

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    • Crazzysimon
      December 6, 2011

      And plus, guaranteed bloodbaths such as SJ / DET; BOS / PHI; PHI / BUF would not happen until the 3rd round of the playoffs, let alone VAN / CHI.

      But then again maybe the new rivalries might be even better. Who knows?

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  16. JDM
    December 6, 2011

    The thing that makes the least sense is the location of the Florida teams. Arguably, the right call would be to move Colorado, Florida and Tampa to the central, Winnipeg to the Northwest, and Detroit and Columbus each to one of the Eastern conferences, and then let the Damned Coyotes move to either Ontario or Quebec City already. Then you have 15 teams in the east and 15 in the west, and the odd guy out (5th seed in the larger conference) has cross-over potential to take the spot of the 4th seed in the smaller conference.

    Hey look, sensible realignment! Doing this now, with the future of hockey in AZ up in the air, was silly.

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  17. Tom
    December 6, 2011

    I like it. hopefully it saves the teams some money as well.

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  18. margaret
    December 6, 2011

    I think the NE Florida conference was a good insight. Maybe the it could be called the Snowbird division. A good many of the fans in Florida probably come from the fan bases of the Montreal Toronto Ottawa Buffalo and Boston. Likewise, to a lesser extent, Phoenix draws better when Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary roll in.

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  19. Andrewsucks
    December 6, 2011

    Can’t wait for Vancouver to just barely miss the playoffs in the new format

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  20. The Bookie
    December 6, 2011

    couldn’t we just pour a 40 onto the Flames?

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  21. J21
    December 7, 2011

    This is not as radical as it sounds once you consider it’s almost an exact return to what was in place before the 1993-94 season. Not only the divisional playoff format, but also the fact that intra-conference teams from the “other” division are treated no differently than teams in the other conference. (Admittedly, I don’t love this… to me it makes sense to play teams in the Midwest a bit more often, but not quite as often as west coast teams).

    The Canucks used to play Smythe Division rivals 6-8 times a year, and everyone else 3 times (with a couple 2s to ensure the right number of games). So this is basically that, adjusted for the fact that there are more teams in the league overall.

    The only difference is that the Final Four will not necessarily be the two West teams and the two East teams necessarily playing each other.

    Anyone who judges the alignment based on how the teams are right now, though, is just being silly. Minnesota won’t always be boring, Florida won’t always be bad, etc. Remember what a laughingstock Washington and Pittsburgh were before Ovechkin and Crosby came along.

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  22. Sam
    December 8, 2011

    Late to the game here, but I really don’t understand how can say that being in an 8 team conference isn’t a major disadvantage compared to being in a 7 teamer. I mean, its playoff hockey. Ya obviously the cream rises to the top, but everyone knows you just have to be in it to win it in hockey. And for the teams themselves. Don’t the Canucks make like $2M per playoff game for realy rounds? You make the playoffs you are guarenteed an extra $4M pure profit? Can you really just say its about quota filling?

    A major con we are losing is exactly that as well. The 8 seed Cinderella stories. Everyone loves waching the underdog 8 seeds, constantly reseeded and playing the top team left in its conference and still making it through each round.

    I do not think the 8 seeds being Western conferences is necessarily a bias. I think our conference is pretty much set based on Canadian/West Coast teams. It was a natural fit. And the NHL wanted PHX in a 8 team conference so there are more options to move the team to other conferences later. But it is impossible to ignore that clearly the West teams are being disadvantaged here. Only 6 Eastern conference teams will not make the playoffs. 8 in the West won’t make it. Any playoff/realignment system should promote fairness as a top priority. This system is not entirely “fair” in handing out playoff stops and I think this is the biggest problem with the system for the NHL as a whole. I am also surprised that more people have not made a stink about it. Most note it but don’t seem to care about it, similar to yourself.

    Also, it didn’t bother me that we never saw Sid/Ovi often. It kind of made it more of an “event” when they rolled into town. Seeing the Eastern Canadian teams every year and the other eastern teams once every 2 years was fine by me.

    But I got to agree. As a selfish individual, my biggest complain is the loss of the Chicago rivalry. I do love how people in Vancouver call it the “best rivalry in the NHL” all the time like it is a given. Philly-Pens especially but also Habs-Leafs, even Flames-Oilers have got to be up there.

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