The National Hockey League… wait for it… wait for it… did something righteous.
It’s 2012-13 realignment plan approved by the Board of Governors is the stuff of greatness, fueling vitriol between longtime rivals and injecting life into some of its weakest markets.
Before we go any further, here’s a brief synopsis: the NHL will shift into four conferences and enter a structure that almost mirrors hockey’s chaotic and wild hey-day of the 1980s when division titles weren’t just cosmetic banners for opening night. Four teams per conference going 1v4, 2v3 and so on with the winner emerging to the Final Four.
Our Buffalo Sabres would keep friends in Boston, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto while adding Tampa Bay and Florida. Carolina and Washington will leave its comfy Southeast digs to join the muddled mix of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Isles, New York Rangers and New Jersey.
Winnipeg gets the most bum rap, away from its “traditional” Canadian rivals to dance with Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas, Columbus, Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. The Battle of Alberta remains with Edmonton and Calgary hanging out with Vancouver, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix and Colorado.
Esteemed show guest/friendo Greg Wyshynski writes of the perils of repetitive playoff rivals, but while that might be true for those who love any game involving any team — say for example a Sabres fan stuck with Kings/Ducks every year in the 10p slot — it’s really the only negative (again, unless you’re a Jets fan cursing the league for refusing to move Nashville east and Toronto west).
Begin here: you’re a Sabre fan whose usual mention of Florida is, “I can’t get rid of my tickets cause Florida’s in town Friday.” Remember what happened after just one seven-game series against Doug Weight, Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes? It’s a hate that still burns despite the lack of a rematch or meaningful game since that series. Those opportunities now burn for the Panthers and Lightning, who really only have each other and have never met in the postseason.
That, too, increases for those clubs which is good for the league overall. The league is righteously signing up for an increased probability of St. Louis v. Nashville or Columbus v. Nashville to build-up rivalries quick. It’s hoping for Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit to renew rivalries and for an Ovechkin/Crosby near-guarantee each April or May. Furthermore, Winnipeg v. Minnesota are markets that should dislike each other despite the lack of the North Stars.
Yes, there are flaws for certain franchises but overall the league has finally high-fived its history in a proper way. If you didn’t grow up in the 1980s as a Sabres fan despising the Habs and Bruins because you couldn’t get past them, you truly don’t know what it felt like to end what felt like a curse that didn’t take 100 years to build. Half the joy of Brad May’s memorable overtime goal was that it was through Ray Bourque’s legs and past Andy Moog. “You bums! We got you! Finally!”
Maybe it’s semantic, but it really works for me. Speaking of semantics, doesn’t three of seven teams and four of eight teams in a division missing the playoffs feel oddly better than the random trash heap involved in a giant conference deal?
Some other hopes/suggestions:
1. Even though Wyshynski Tweeted that it’s likely the league goes Pacific, Northwest, Atlantic and Northeast, can I suggest going with historical names for the conferences? Gretzky, Howe, Orr and Lemieux?
2. Here’s hoping the final two groupings still remain “East” and “West,” and as “Prince of Wales” and “Clarence Campbell.”
3. Let’s hope the division champion banner goes only to the divisional playoff champ, not the regular season.
In summation: more grief, more rivalries, more emotion? I’ll take increased probability of that, thank you. No, really, thank you, NHL. I like hockey more today.
Now, NHLPA… DON’T MESS IT UP.