The NHL Board of Governors recently voted to approve the widely circulated League proposal for realignment. Starting in 2013-14, a realigned NHL will feature an Eastern Conference with 16 teams and a Western Conference that contains just 14 teams. Each conference will contain just 2 divisions rather than the current format of three divisions per conference.
Below, I outline some of the pros and cons for Nashville under the new conference structure. Please note that, for the sake of illustration, I give the new divisions geographic names. At the time of this writing, no decision has been made in terms of formal names for the NHL’s new expanded divisions.
As approved, realignment would look like the following:
Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.
Mid-West Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
The top three teams in each division would make the playoffs. As would four wild-card teams which would be the best two non-division winners in each conference.
The net effect for Nashville means losing Detroit and Columbus while gaining Winnipeg, Dallas, Minnesota and Colorado as divisional rivals.
Strength of Division Rivals. Doesn’t it benefit the Predators, from a competitive viewpoint, if Detroit is no longer part of the division? i.e. Detroit is a perennial playoff team. Based on last year’s standings, many pundits argued that the Central Division was the strongest in the NHL. It would follow then that losing one of the stronger clubs in the division– Detroit – improves Nashville’s competitive advantage.
Maybe so, but don’t forget Columbus goes too and Nashville has had their way with the Blue Jackets franchise since its inception. Entering 2012-13, Nashville boasts a 49-14-6 record versus Columbus. That’s an average of just under 10 points earned in a single season against just one team. That’s a lot of points to let skate away.
At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that this argument will lose or gain strength depending on the ebb and flow of divisional rivals.
Playoff Prospects. The East would be comprised of 16 teams while the West would house 14. I’m no mathematician but I would much rather be one of 14 teams trying to earn a top eight spot than one of 16 attempting to do the same. Two additional teams vying for the same number of spots means an Eastern Conference team is at a competitive disadvantage when compared to any Western counterpart.
Travel. According to the NHLPA, based on last year’s schedule, the Predators’ travel would increase by approximately 4%. At the end of the day, an increase of this size would probably be inconsequential. Especially when you consider that all intra-divisional travel, with the exception of Colorado, would occur in the Central time zone. Players will tell you one of the more difficult travel issues they deal with is having to continually adjust their body clocks to accommodate a new time zone.
Under the new structure, the Preds will lose two Eastern Time zone opponents while picking up one Mountain time team in Colorado. At the end of the day, the teams that Nashville will play most may be further away than Detroit and Columbus (Winnipeg, Colorado and Minnesota) but at least they’re on Central time. I see this as a wash or a minor disadvantage for Nashville.
Rivalries. Any Preds fan knows, Detroit vs. Nashville at the Bridgestone is an automatic sellout – even if the teams faced off at midnight … on a Monday. And there is no team a Preds fan would rather send home empty-handed than those pesky Red Wings. Beating Detroit in a playoff series ranks among the most notable achievements in Predators history. So for a team that is just now beginning to form some strong rivalries, losing Detroit is a setback to some degree.
Having said that, rivalries grow out of the contempt teams gain for each other during the playoffs. Despite losing Detroit, there will be other playoff matchups with new divisional opponents; you can rest assured that new rivalries will be formed. And yes Vince, we’ll identify some new sissies too!
See you around the rink.