Silver Nuggets: Pros and cons of NHL realignment

If you closely follow hockey and don't live under a rock, you likely know that the NHL dramatically changed its divisions/conferences, pending NHLPA approval. Instead of having two conferences with three divisions each, the league will now have four conferences. Two conferences in the east will have seven teams each and the two in the west will have eight teams each. The "east" and "west" doesn't mean much any more though, aside from geography. The Ottawa Senators conference will include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montréal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and err... the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Ottawa will play the 23 clubs outside their conference twice (once home and once away) for a total of 46 games. Playing the other six clubs in their conference six times each will make up the remaining 36 games. Teams in an eight team conference will play 44 games against the 22 teams outside their conference and the remaining 38 games will be played within the conference by playing some teams five times and others six times on a rotating basis.

The first two rounds of the playoffs will be within each conference. The four conference champions will be reseeded for the semifinals. There are there some pros and some cons to this so let's take looks a look.

Pros

  • Divisional playoffs: If the Sens, Leafs, and Habs all make the playoffs, one of the following matchups is guaranteed in the first round: Sens-Leafs, Sens-Habs, Leafs-Habs. A similar situation exists in other conferences.
  • More possibilities for Stanley Cup final: In this format, the Senators can face anyone outside their conference in a potential Stanley Cup final. This means Ottawa could face Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc. for the cup.
  • Fans see every team: Every NHL club will host every other NHL club at least once. This will mean Mark can at least see the Senators once a season in Nashville.
  • Time zones: No team is more than one hour away in time difference from any of their conference opponents. This certainly helps television ratings for road games for teams like Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit and Dallas.

Cons

  • Playoffs could get repetitive: While it is exciting to play the Leafs or Habs in the playoffs, there are only six teams the Senators can play in the first two rounds of the playoffs, as opposed to 14 possible opponents right now. Ottawa can also now no longer ever play Toronto or Montréal past the second round.
  • Unfair to eight team conferences: As members of a seven team conference, Ottawa has a 57% chance of making the playoffs each season. Clubs in an eight team conference will only have a 50% chance. This is a systematic disadvantage each and every year to clubs in eight team divisions.
  • Play former conference opponents less: Ottawa had a building rivalry with Pittsbugh but will now only play them twice a season. The Senators will also only play teams like Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers twice.
  • Canadian teams clustered: With six of the seven Canadian teams in two conferences, they will knock each other out in the earlier rounds. There will be at least one American team guaranteed in the semifinals.
  • Florida teams: The inclusion of the Florida teams in Ottawa's conference are so random and makes no sense aside from the 'snowbird' impact. Playing them six times each per season does not sound very appealing to me.

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