Last week, the NHL and NHLPA officially agreed on a new realignment plan that will see the league go from six divisions down to four in time for the 2013-14 season. I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of such a change and while I have some reservations about the switch, I do like where the NHL is going with this.
Due to where they are geographically located, the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets will be moving to the Eastern Conference giving them 16 teams to the Western Conference’s 14. Ideally, a 15-15 split would have been more favourable but if you look at the teams on a map, it isn’t logical to move one team to the East and keep the other team where they are.
The most disappointing aspect for me in terms of seeing the Red Wings head east is that in years past if the Los Angeles Kings weren’t in the eastern time zone when I was, I could have driven the four hours to the Motor City to see them play. While I will still able to do that, it won’t be as often. But then again, I will be able to see the Kings once a year in Toronto, Buffalo and even Ottawa. While it’s still not an ideal situation, it is actually better than how it was for the last number of seasons.
What I am going to enjoy is the return of the old Smythe Division (while it most likely won’t be named that). For those who are old enough to remember, the rivalries the Kings had with the Flames, Oilers and Canucks (all of whom will be playing in their new division) were, in a word, epic. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the Kings had battles with the Flames and Oilers that were the talk of hockey for much of the year.
From Mike Krushelnyski’s scoring the series-winner from his belly that saw the reigning champs get ousted to head coach Terry Crisp losing his job to the bench brawl that was initiated by then-Kings coach Tom Webster allegedly punching Doug Gilmour, Los Angeles’ rivalry with the Calgary Flames was one of the league’s hottest back in the day. The same can be said for Los Angeles’ vintage matchups with Edmonton where the Kings, led by former Oiler Wayne Gretzky, knocked off the reigning champs a year before the aforementioned Krushelnyksi goal. These rivalries are what hockey was all about and now that they’re going to return with the same force next season is simply scintillating.
While they didn’t have as celebrated a rivalry with the Canucks back then, the Kings have certainly had an immense taste for blood lo these few years for Vancouver.
Of course, aside from their Western Canadian rivals, Los Angeles will remain in the same division as San Jose, Anaheim and Phoenix but say goodbye to the Dallas Stars who move to the West’s other division.
Overall, while I’m reluctant for the change as I’ve been so used to this format for years, the realignment will certainly breathe some new life into the game and cut travel costs for just about every team and as far as I’m concerned with the black cloud of lockout still in the rear view mirror, a move like this could not have come at a better time.
The playoff format is one that I’m especially excited about. The top three teams in each division will make the playoffs with the top two teams in each conference (regardless of division) with the most points will qualify for the post-season as wild cards and open the playoffs in a potential cross-over matchup. While the realignment will still see eight teams from each conference make the playoffs, the matchups won’t be quite the same.
While some may look at the new postseason format as redundant, I love it. Think about it: if the Kings finish second of third in their division for five-straight years, they are guaranteed to face a divisional opponent in the first round. That means they could write another chapter in their rivalry with the Canucks, reignite hostilities with the Coyotes or Kings fans could make a two-week-long commute back and forth from the big city to Orange County to see their team face off against the hated Anaheim Ducks. That’s certainly a lot more exciting than opening the playoffs against a team like Chicago Blackhawks who the Kings never had much of a rivalry with. I’d take the former any day to be honest.
There is change coming but change is good and for the Los Angeles Kings, this should be a great opportunity. I say bring on the new realignment because I’ve never been more excited about anything (non-Stanley Cup-related, of course) than I am about this.