Ever since the Atlanta Thrashers took off to the Great White North and ended up in Winnipeg, it was inevitable that the NHL would realign. Having a team in Canada in the Southeast Division just doesn't make a ton of sense. It took some time, and having a lockout to deal with probably delayed things, but now a new NHL alignment has been approved for the 2013-2014 season and beyond.
There will still be two conferences, the Eastern and Western Conference. However, there will now be four divisions as opposed to six. The divisions don't have names yet, but the teams were dispersed as follows:
Division A: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
Division B: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
Division C: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
Division D: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
There you have it. Now, all 16 teams that play in the Eastern Time Zone are in the Eastern Conference. That's a good thing for teams like Detroit and Columbus. Dallas, which is in the Central Time Zone, no longer players a bunch of teams in the Pacific Time Zone. Winnipeg isn't in the Southeast. However, there is a key number I mentioned. The 16 teams in the Eastern Time Zone are all in one conference. There are 30 teams in the NHL. That means we have a 16 team conference and a 14 team conference.
For this alone I don't like the realignment. It's not fair. There are still eight teams making the playoffs in both conferences. It's easier to make the playoffs in the West than the East. That's an irritant. In the new playoff system, the top three teams from each division will make the playoffs, and then there will be two more wild card teams.
The NHL could have just moved Columbus to the Southeast, moved Winnipeg to the Northwest, and moved Minnesota to the Central. Simple and to the point. Sure, that would leave Detroit in the Central still, but they've been there for years, and it keeps them with Chicago. Now, of course, that isn't the case.
I like the divisions, all told. Division C is particularly interesting to me. Four Original Six teams, Montreal, Boston, and Toronto all still together. They threw in Florida and Tampa Bay for the snowbirds, but fair enough on that.
This realignment just screams expansion to me. They'll be looking for 32 teams I reckon. In a couple years, they can probably support that, especially if the KHL finds itself wonky. However, it also looks set up for two teams to join the West. While, if the NHL expands, I presume one of the teams will be in Seattle, presuming they get the Sonics back, which seems inevitable, I also figured the other team would be in Quebec City or another team in Toronto. This seems more set up for a team in Seattle and a team in Kansas City.
Nevertheless, the NHL has a new look for next season. It's not a good look, but it makes more sense for travel.