Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Realignment Reactions

Last night the NHL's Board of Governors approved a four conference format that better suits NHL teams trying to play in similar time slots with shorter travel.  It is also geared to allow a home and home against every single NHL team.  For Columbus, this brings the return of a number of familiar faces from the Central division, along with the addition of the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and the Winnipeg Jets.  This is one option that seemed to be better than the standard "Winnipeg for Detroit" swap which would create little positive change for Columbus.

Lots of reactions early on from fans seemed surprisingly pessimistic.  I suppose I don't blame them, although I suspect the only real change that would have suited some fans would have been the collective conference of bottom feeding NHL teams in order to better the Jackets playoff hopes.  Certainly they have a tough road ahead, but no more tough than some teams have it.

My first thought was the new playoff structure.  In this format, four of the eight teams in this "B" conference (soon to be named, and predicted to be the "Central" conference) make the playoffs.  While this seems desperately negative to some who see teams like Detroit, Chicago and Nashville as nearly impossible obstacles, I see it as a great opportunity for the Blue Jackets to make their own fate.  In the current structure, they need to beat seven other teams in the west in order to make the playoffs, sometimes even eight teams if another division is weak enough.  I recognize that the impossible realignment placing Columbus in the east with less gritty teams like Toronto and Ottawa would have been a best possible example, they can still grow as a team and find solutions to the gritty western style of play.

The second thought that immediately came to mind was the current rivalries that will be maintained.  With an eight team race for four slots, I will anticipate increased rivalries not only when the Blue Jackets are playing these teams, but when these teams play each other.  Each conference game will have a bigger impact of the playoff possibilities, and I truly look forward to hating these seven other teams.  Secondary to that, Minnesota will be an excellent addition for Columbus, as they already seem to dislike each other, and after the Wisniewski suspension and bad blood from earlier this year, I think that goes for the fans as well.  They also share similar expansion stories.

While Dallas does not strike a chord for me, I can't help but think back to a few of the injuries they have piled on the Jackets in recent years, and I suspect it won't take long for a quality rivalry to be built there as well.  While Dallas has had their highs and lows already this year, I think they are well suited as Blue Jackets opponents and will keep games interesting for the fans.  I am somewhat indifferent on the addition of Winnipeg, although adding Canadian viewership is rarely a bad thing.  This will be a team that will grow on similar paths as Columbus, so it will be fun to watch the two teams develop and attempt to get better over the next couple of years.

I also thought of how much worse other teams got it.  Washington probably got hit the worst, switching from what has deemed to be a soft Southeast division to play with New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (as well as Carolina, but that's not my point here).  While this benefits their travel schedule, it will make for a much more grueling regular season.  I also find it interesting that Florida's teams will join the Eastern Canadian teams in a conference, which makes sense mostly on account of the imported fans who reside in Florida during the winter months.  Kudos to them for finding a target audience.

Finally, I see a benefit in the reduced number of Western Conference games.  While Minnesota, St Louis, Dallas, Chicago, Winnipeg, and Nashville are all an hour behind Columbus, it is far better watching games that start at 8-8:30 rather than 10:30.  Certainly playing teams in a similar time zone would greatly benefit them, this is a step forward from their current schedule which has them playing a large handful of games in the late time slot.

I know many were hoping for any 'easier' conference but that should not be the goal of this franchise.  Simply making the playoffs will never be enough for me.  I want to see a team that is defined as being in the top 5% of the league, and is a threat to play against game after game.  I don't see the value in joining a sandbagging conference that allows them to be a perennial disappointment once they have successfully beaten seven weaker teams.  In fact, this structure allows them to come out of the conference with a great deal of confidence and experience, which could potentially give them the competitive edge against the secondary Western Conference winner.  In any case, I want Columbus to succeed because they deserve it, not because they are the better team in a weaker conference.

Carry the Flag!


  1. I like the rebirth of the old Patrick Division.

    And I love the playoff format. This will build some great rivalries, and make the regular season that much more intense.

  2. Biggest gain for the Jackets is they drop 2 of 4 West Coast/Western Canada road trips every year. I also think the home attendance will be improved with all those east coast teams coming into Nationwide.