Making Sense of NHL Realignment

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. 


12 Responses

  1. the rivalry aspect is overplayed in that you cant face any of your biggest rivals beyond the second round of the playoffs
    so yeah the flyers will face the pens rangers and devils more times in the playoffs but in series that dont mean as much
    how is that the flyers can never again play the pens or rangers in a league semifinal (the old conference finals)…thats ridiculous imo
    i also feel like they will be playing these other rivlas so often now in the playoffs that rather than ratchet up the rivalry it actually might dull it as it wont be a big deal anymore cause it always happens

  2. I agree. They did a good job with the regular season schedule, but the playoff format did not need tweeking. It’s already the best part of the season and draws in the casual fans so no need for a rivalry gimmick there. There are 30 teams in the league yet we are only going to play 6 of them for two thirds of the season (including playoffs). The playoffs are more fun when you’re creating new rivalries so you can hate teams outside of your division (now conference). As a Flyers fan, I’ve seen our team eliminated by nearly every Eastern Conference team at one point or another, allowing me to hate every team in the East on some level. That’s going to go away in this format.

  3. @The Ghost of Leonard Tose, It’s funny that you say that it might dull rivalries and get boring because that’s EXACTLY why they changed it in 1993 in the first place. People were getting tired of seeing Flyers/Rangers in the playoffs year after year after year. Puck Daddy just had an article about this the other day and he actually had some quotes from articles that were written in 1993 that talk about this too. It’s funny how in 2011 we’ve come full circle and we’re now being told that the “old system” is the better way again.
    The playoff format is my only beef with this whole realignment thing, I hope they tweak that at some point. They need to figure out a way to group the 4 conferences into 2 groups of 2 (East and West, or whatever) and take 8 teams from each one, then just re-seed after each round. That was really the only problem with the current format, it needed to be re-seeded after each round.

  4. …aaaaaand I’m an idiot, I was thinking of basketball which does not re-seed after each round, but hockey does. Carry on.

  5. Have to agree with the above. The playoff format is horrible. We are going to have to go through Pitt Washington and NY to get to play who? Detroit then Vancouver? Stupid. Look at Boston conference, no competition. I think only 2 of the conferences are really that tough. Your going to have 4 teams in the end and 2 of them would normally not make it that far. Playoffs should be 1 vs 8. Flyers not playing Pitt, Washington or Rangers in ECF is stupid. I am a die hard hockey fan and have been for about 20 years. I do not like this move and think the system is fine the way it is. **Minor note, i would like to change some other things…like points**

  6. its also kind of crazy that if one conference holds the two best (or even two of the best) teams in the nhl that one of them will automatically be out in the second round

  7. Yeah, sure, we’re thinking we have to go through Crosby, Lundqvist; and Ovechkin, but let’s not forget that fans of the Rangers, Pens and Capitals are definitely thinking, “Ugh, now we have to see Giroux every year in the playoffs.”

  8. @Chip –
    To dispute your “Boston not in a tough conference” for a minute…
    Tampa Bay took them to 7 games last season in the conference finals and has been to as many Cups as the Flyers in the last decade. They have arguably the NHL’s top scorer for the next 10 years in Stamkos.
    Montreal and Boston have routinely met in the playoffs with grueling 7-game series. The Canadiens were two inches to one side of a post away from eliminating the Bruins in Round 1 last year.
    I get that Ottawa, Florida, and Toronto have stunk the last few years, and Buffalo isn’t quite the perennial threat like the Pens or Caps, but honestly, the Flyers really should never miss the playoffs with the teams in their conference either. Can you ever see them being the 5th best team among the 7 that will be in the new Atlantic Conference? No.

  9. I have to agree with the above. I do think that seeing the same teams playing each other year after year gets a little stale. I would also like to see the conferences go back to the old naming convention, where real NAMES are used, and not geographic terms.

  10. i love it. I was always disheartened when we played 4 games all year against Buffalo…and played them in the first round. You will have much better early-round playoff hockey games when it’s all teams who have played each other 6 times.
    It’s also finally fair in the scheduling. You remember how the 2009-10 season came down to the wire? That season we lost to the Sharks twice, and lost to Minnesota twice.
    But we beat Columbus..but only played them once. Also beat the Kings…but only played them once.
    it’s not fair. this finally evens it up and you get every team twice a year.

  11. i always hated how Pittsburgh’s games vs the West would have teams with lower point records than the Flyers had to play or vice versa….
    Especially when they are irrelevant at the end of the year and the season always comes down to a couple points…a couple points that the unfair interleague schedule could change drastically.

  12. the first round. You will have much better early-round playoff hockey games when it’s all teams who have played each other 6 times.
    It’s also finally fair in the scheduling. You remember how the 2009-10 season came down to the wire? That season we lost to the

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