Dan Hershberg is the brilliant mind behind Philly Phaithful, maker of fine Philly sports apparel and friend of CB. He's also a gigantic hockey fan. He wrote this.
After merely an hour of negotiations Monday night, the NHL Board of Governors made public what has been rumored for weeks: The league will undergo a drastic realignment beginning in the 2012-13 season, significantly altering its landscape by eradicating the current 6-division structure in favor of a 4-conference format. While the realignment can’t be finalized until approved by the NHLPA (all signs indicate it will be), the league deserves major kudos for once again failing to rest on its laurels, taking steps to improve the on-ice product while simultaneously easing the travel demands for its franchises.
But where does the new structure leave the Flyers? The plan is a lot to digest, a radical change from the status quo. It’s not black and white, nor should it be. Where does one start? I tried here:
Do you want more meaningful regular season games? Yes, please. Under the current structure, the Flyers play their fellow divisional opponents 6 times each season. Under the new structure that format won’t change, however, the games will take on larger importance as only the top-4 teams in each yet-to-be-named conference will make the playoffs. Rather than competing with 14 other teams for 8 spots, the Flyers will need to finish better than at least 3 of their 6 conference foes in order to play in the postseason, regardless of their point total. This change adds major incentive to win every intra-conference game from October-April, giving these games a true playoff feel throughout the season. Beating Carolina will also feel extra special from now on.
Do you want to see the “Nuge” without taking out a second mortgage to purchase Center Ice? One of the biggest features of the realignment is the addition of 2 games (one home, one away) with every team in the league, including those currently playing in the Western Conference. If you’re willing to spend $200/year on a non-HD television package to see the Blues-Oilers, more power to you, but I’d rather pay $60 (thanks Crossing Broad tickets!) to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in person at the WFC every year. While the flipside of this addition limits the Bruins, Habs, Leafs etc to 2 games per season, it also allows us the opportunity to take out our frustration on Blackhawks fans in person once a year.
Do you hate Sidney Crosby? You’ll hate him more now since you’ll likely see him in the playoffs every year, as the new format will assure that intra-conference rivalries take center stage in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. At the end of the regular season, the 1st seed in each conference will play the 4th seed, with the 2nd and 3rd place team squaring off in the other series. The second round will pit the winners of each series against each other, sending the victor onto the semifinals. While the breakdown from that point onward is still up in the air (Will they re-seed all 4 semifinalists? Will they keep East-West in the SCF?) the point here is that in order to win the Cup, the Flyers will likely have to go through Pittsburgh, Washington and New York on a yearly basis. Imagine the possibilities for an annual 24-7, playoff edition. That’s hockey pornography.
Yes, for hockey purists, the realignment is heavenly: intense rivalries are only intensified and the entire league will be on display for every fan. But what about the ultimate goal: winning the Stanley Cup?
From the Flyers standpoint, the path just got immensely tougher. And while that pursuit becomes more difficult in the short term with Crosby/Malkin, Ovechkin/Backstrom and Lundqvist/Richards standing in our way, the beauty of hockey is that like all sports, it’s cyclical. Current rosters give no guarantee of future success and it’s impossible to know which teams will rise to the top each year. The Flyers have positioned themselves to be in the thick of things for years to come and fans should relish the opportunity to watch the team play against—and hopefully beat—the best year in and year out.