SHERWOOD PARK, Alberta – Thursday’s announcement that the NHL’s Board of Governors approved realignment and a new playoff format for the next three seasons came as no surprise to the Red Wings’ players.
“I think it's a great time for our fans,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We're not going to be heading out west as much. They'll be able to watch our games in prime time a lot more than they have in the past. And of course playing Montreal, Toronto, Boston more often, I'm hoping it's going to spark that (enthusiasm from fans) even more. I know it will for us, for sure.”
It’s a win-win for fans, especially those who follow the Red Wings. Detroit fans will no longer have to stay up until 1 a.m. to watch televised road games from the West Coast. With a new set of opponents, including Original Six rivals like the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Bruins, and a schedule consisting primarily of 7-7:30 p.m. starts, there will be a new buzz that reenergizes the fan base in Hockeytown.
Besides the three Original Six foes, the Red Wings will be lumped into a division with Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa and Tampa Bay. While rivalries with Colorado and San Jose will fade with time, new rivalries – just like the old ones – will eventually be created by future playoff series.
The plan creates to two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference and two seven-team divisions in the Western Conference.
“That’s great news,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “Everyone should be happy, especially in Detroit. … In a couple of years we’ll see how it goes, see how the playoff situation unfolds and how the teams respond to that.”
The NHL also approved a new division-based format for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which like realignment, will begin with the 2013-14 season. The new postseason format is a welcome change for the Red Wings. Since 1994, the Wings have played 28 of the last 40 playoffs series against Western teams from at least two time zones away.
Playoff qualification will be primarily division-based, with the top three finishers in each division qualifying for the first six spots in each conference. The two additional playoff spots in each conference will be awarded to the seventh and eighth highest-placed finishers based on regular-season points and regardless of division.
Travel considerations, especially in the playoffs, has been an issue in the past for the Red Wings, who in this new plan won’t have to make four annual transcontinental trips to California and western Canada. The new plan ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once a season.
“You talk to a lot of the guys about the travel out West and it’s tough,” rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff said. “Now you get yourself in a situation where the travel isn’t as bad and that’s always a good thing.”
Lashoff made his first cross-country trip with the Red Wings last month.
“It was tough. I’ve never had to do that,” Lashoff said. “Getting your sleep patterns back together is tough and tougher when you’re coming back and playing right away, but at the same time it’s all about getting your rest. As long as you’re not doing it too much during the season, it’s fine.”
Rookie defenseman Brendan Smith, who is from suburban Toronto and still has family and friends in the area, is thrilled to be moving to the East Conference for more than one reason.
“To get to play Toronto more, because it’s back home, that’s pretty cool,” Smith said. “Some people think after you watch the game and turn off the TV (that) you’re done. Maybe we have an eight hour trip home. There is a lot of wear and tear on the body.”
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