The NHL Board of Governors recently voted to alter the landscape of the league’s conference setup by approving radical realignment.
Starting next season, the current setup of two conferences with three divisions each will give way to a more geographically-friendly setup that features four conferences with seven to eight teams in each one. Realignment became necessary this past summer when the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated to Winnipeg, but remained in the Southeast Division.
While the Coyotes’ main focus is on this season and earning a playoff spot in the Western Conference, some players have taken a glance at what next season holds and are intrigued by the changes, especially the new schedule format.
All teams will play opponents out of their conference at least once at home and at least once on the road, meaning visits to Glendale from NHL superstars Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, et al, will be more common for Coyotes fans.
“One thing I like about it is that you get to play in every team’s rink,” defenseman Keith Yandle
said. “And you get to play every team twice. I think that’s good for the fans to see every team and every player.”
The Coyotes will be in what is now being referred to as “Conference A.” Current Pacific Division rivals Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose will be joining Phoenix in this conference. Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver will round out the conference.
“It kind of works out well for us, obviously, with Calgary and Edmonton,” defenseman Adrian Aucoin
said. “I think we have quite a big fan base of those people coming down here in the winter anyways, and Vancouver as well. (And) keeping all the California teams who we’re already battling against, it makes a lot of sense for us.”
But the Coyotes will be seeing a lot less of the Dallas Stars, who will join fellow Central Time Zone teams St. Louis and Nashville in the new “Conference B.”
Another major change with realignment includes the playoff format. The top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, and be seeded against each other - No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 - in a playoff format. The two series winners will then play to decide the conference champion.
Currently, teams qualify for the playoffs by posting one of the top eight point totals among two 15-team conferences.
“I always think the top teams in the league should be getting in, just to make it better hockey,” Aucoin said. “I think if you look historically at any professional sport, when you have certain divisions and top teams get in, even if they’re sub-.500, it really doesn’t make much sense when there’s really good teams that can’t get in because of their competition.”
He added, “Maybe things change (to the playoff format), but it’ll be a battle regardless of who’s in our conference or not.”