The NHL's Board of Governors today approved a league realignment to take effect next season which will feature four conferences instead of the current two-conference, three-division format, with the first two rounds of the playoffs taking place within these conferences.
Frankly, I'm thrilled at the prospects here. The current format has done nothing to foster division rivalries, and now there will be a genuine accomplishment to winning both a regular season and playoff division title.
After the jump, let's lay out the new alignment plan, and look at some of the implications for the Nashville Predators.
We'll go with the terms used by Kevin Allen of USA Today here. The following table lays out the new conferences, and I've calculated the average distance for each team to its new conference foes.
|Central Conference||Avg. Dist.||West Conference||Avg. Dist.|
|Chicago Blackhawks||434||Anaheim Ducks||743|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||524||Calgary Flames||875|
|Dallas Stars||846||Colorado Avalanche||886|
|Detroit Red Wings||530||Edmonton Oilers||1008|
|Minnesota Wild||557||Los Angeles Kings||737|
|Nashville Predators||549||Phoenix Coyotes||812|
|St. Louis Blues||460||San Jose Sharks||745|
|Winnipeg Jets||863||Vancouver Canucks||895|
|East 1 Conference||Avg. Dist.||East 2 Conference||Avg. Dist.|
|Boston Bruins||637||Carolina Hurricanes||366|
|Buffalo Sabres||535||New Jersey Devils||173|
|Florida Panthers||1087||New York Islanders||191|
|Montreal Canadiens||617||New York Rangers||177|
|Ottawa Senators||576||Philadelphia Flyers||164|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1013||Pittsburgh Penguins||289|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||553||Washington Capitals||195|
The travel imbalances which have plagued the Western teams for years seem to be a little bit alleviated here, and I like the way the Western and Central conferences are grouped as much as possible within their time zones. As far as the total travel burden on each team works out, that will have to wait until the next season's schedule comes out, after which I'll publish another Super Schedule.
The cool news here? Teams will play every team outside their conference at least once home and away each season. More details can be found at our SB Nation Primer on NHL realignment.
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"!
The NHL's press release follows:
The National Hockey League Board of Governors tonight approved a four-Conference alignment format and authorized Commissioner Gary Bettman to implement this proposal, pending input from the National Hockey League Players' Association. The format would create two eight-team Conferences and two seven-team conferences.
Under the format, every team would play every other team outside its conference twice -- once home, once away.
In the seven-team Conferences, teams would play six times -- three home, three away. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season: An eight-team Conference member that plays an opponent six times in one season would play it five times the following season.
The top four teams in each Conference qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first-place team would play the fourth-place team; the second-place team would play the third-place team. The four respective Conference champions would meet in the third round of the Playoffs, with the survivors playing for the Stanley Cup.
The Conference format:
CONF. A CONF. B CONF. C CONF. D
Anaheim Chicago Boston Carolina
Calgary Columbus Buffalo NJ Devils
Colorado Dallas Florida NY Islanders
Edmonton Detroit Montreal NY Rangers
Los Angeles Minnesota Ottawa Philadelphia
Phoenix Nashville Tampa Bay Pittsburgh
San Jose St. Louis Toronto Washington