The NHL’s schedule for the upcoming 2013-2014 season has been released, so let’s take a look at some things in regards to it. For starters, the biggest change is in respect to realignment. Last year there were six divisions, three in each conference — the West had the Northwest, Central and Pacific divisions, the East had the Northeast, Atlantic and Southeast divisions. The Northwest had the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, the Central had the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, the Pacific had the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks, the Northeast had the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Atlantic had the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Southeast has the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets. That’s the biggest reason there had to be realignment right there — Winnipeg was in the Southeast Division, with Carolina, Washington and two teams from Florida. That’s, uh, not close to Winnipeg. The Jets were forced to play the last two years there since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, because that’s where Atlanta was, and the NHL couldn’t realign until now. I’m not exactly sure why. Apparently the 2011-2012 schedule had already been determined when it was announced that the Thrashers were going to move to Winnipeg, and then the NHLPA shot a realignment plan down, and then there was a lockout, and I don’t know, things just couldn’t get done until now for some reason.
There will now only be four divisions, two in each conference. In the West there will be the Pacific and Central divisions still, but no Northwest. After their division was destroyed, the Canadian teams from the Northwest, the Flames, Oilers and Canucks will be joining the Pacific with the Ducks, Kings, Coyotes and Sharks. Not the Stars, though, as they’re heading over to the Central, as long with the other two members of the Northwest, the Avalanche and Wild. Remaining in the Central are the Blackhawks, Predators and Blues, and the Jets will also be joining them, whose Southeast Division no longer exists, and they wouldn’t have remained in it even if it did still exist. In the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Division is still a thing, but along with the Southeast, there is no longer a Northeast, just a new Metropolitan Division. That division is actually what the entire former Atlantic Division moved to, though, along with the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Capitals. The new Atlantic Division features the entire former Northeast Division, the Red Wings and the Florida teams. As you can see, some teams even switched conferences in this realignment — the Jets went from the East to the West, while the Jackets and Wings did the opposite. Of course, that means there are now 16 teams in the East, eight in each division, and just 14 in the West, seven in each division.
The playoffs are going to work a little differently now. The top three teams from each division will make the playoffs, while there will then be two wild cards in each conference, meaning the last two playoff spots won’t necessarily go to the fourth place team in each division. Say fifth place in the Pacific has more points than fourth place in the Central, then they’ll get in, obviously along with fourth place in the Pacific. Apparently the playoffs will be divisional, meaning second and third place in each division will face each other in the first round, and first place in each division will face a wild card. The division winner with the most points in the conference will take on the wild card with the fewest points, while the other division winner will play the wild card with the most points. So, because of the wild cards, you could have teams crossing over into another division’s playoffs. There will be two series within each division, with the winners facing off in the next round for the division championship, and then the winner of that facing off against the winner of the division championship from the other division within their conference, then the winner of the conference finals advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s a little bit confusing, I know, and even I’m not totally certain on how it works, but this is how I understand it as of now. All series will still be best-of-seven, with Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at home for the team that finished higher in the regular season, and Games 3, 4 and 6 at home for the team that finished lower in the regular season.
I’m not crazy about how this has made the conferences uneven. I understand that Columbus and Detroit were sick of being in the West, and geographically, no, it doesn’t make sense for them to be in the West, but there are so few teams in the NHL that should legitimately be West teams, so they should just have to suck it up. I don’t think it’s right for the conferences to be unbalanced. The simplest thing they could have done would have been to move Winnipeg to the Central and Nashville to the Southeast. Perhaps they could have moved Winnipeg to the Northwest, Colorado to the Pacific and Dallas to the Southeast. Or maybe Columbus or Detroit would have been willing to play in the Southeast if it meant not having to stay in the West, and Winnipeg could have swapped into the Central for them. Regardless, we’ll see how it all works out.
As far as the games go, the way it had been was that you would play all four other teams in your division six times (three times at home and on the road), each of the other 10 teams in your conference four times (twice at home and twice on the road), 12 teams from the other conference once (six at home, six on the road) and three teams from the other conference twice (once at home and once on the road). Which teams from the other conference you faced at home, on the road and both were different every year. The way it’s now going to work is different. For the East teams, since they have seven other teams in their division, they’ll play two of them five times (three at home and two on the road for one, vice versa for the other) and the other five teams four times (twice at home and on the road). For the eight teams outside of their division but still in the Eastern Conference, they’ll play all of them three times, four of them twice on the road and once at home, and vice versa for the other four. Who they play more at home and more on the road will switch each year, and who they play more in their division will also switch each year. They will play the 14 teams from the other conference twice, once at home and once on the road.
In the West, teams will only have six other teams in their division, and five of them they will play five times (three times on the road and twice at home for three teams, vice versa for the other two) and one team they will play four times, twice at home and twice on the road. The other seven teams in their conference they will play three times, four of them twice at home and once on the road, and vice versa for the other three. Like in the East, who they play more at home and on the road will switch each year, as will who they play more in their division. They will play the 16 teams from the other conference twice, once at home and once on the road. What I do like about this realignment is that teams will get to play in every arena each season.
For the Kings, the teams within their conference but not in their division that they will play twice at home and once on the road are the Avalanche, Stars, Wild and Blues, while the teams that they will play twice on the road and once at home are the Blackhawks, Predators and Jets. The teams within their division that they will play three times on the road and twice at home are the Ducks, Flames and Sharks, the teams they will play three times at home and twice on the road are the Coyotes and the Canucks, and the team they will face just four times is the Oilers.
Here are some notable dates from the Kings’ schedule:
October 3rd: The Kings open their regular season on the road against the Wild.
October 7th: The Kings’ third game of the season will be their home opener, when they take on the Rangers.
October 11th: The Kings will head to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes, where former Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth will face his former team for the first time since being traded to the ‘Canes before this past season. He didn’t get to play them this past season because of the shortened season thanks to the lockout that didn’t allow teams to play teams from the other conference. Westgarth will make his return to Los Angeles with the Hurricanes on March 1st.
October 30th: The Kings host the Sharks in the first rematch of their seven-game series in the Western Conference semi finals from this past season. It will be the first of five meetings on the season.
November 7th: The Kings will host the Sabres, as Robyn Regehr will face his former team for the first time since being dealt to the Kings during this past season. Then on November 12th, Regehr will make his return to Buffalo.
November 9th: The Kings will host the Canucks in the first meeting between these two teams as division rivals. Not only is this notable because I think the rivalry between them is already very underrated, but Brad Richardson, who spent the last five years with the Kings, will make his return to Los Angeles to play his former team for the first time since signing with Vancouver after this past season. It will be the first of five meetings on the season.
November 14th: The Kings will head on the road to take on the Islanders, where they will face Thomas Hickey, who was taken with the fourth pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Kings but was never given a chance to play for them before New York claimed him off waivers before this past season. This is his first time playing the Kings for the same reason Westgarth will be facing them for the first time this year. Hickey will make his return to Los Angeles with the Isles on December 7th.
November 15th: One day after facing Hickey for the first time, the Kings will head to New Jersey to take on the Devils in the first rematch of the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Final, again, for the same reason Westgarth and Hickey will be facing the Kings for the first time this year. The Kings will also get to face former teammate Andrei Loktionov for the first time, who was dealt to Jersey during this past season. Not even a week later, on November 21st, the Kings will face the Devils again, this time at home, where last time they met, the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time. Loktionov will also make his return to Los Angeles.
December 2nd: The Kings host the Blues in the first rematch of their Western Conference quarter-final series from this past season, a six-game series that was widely considered to be the best series of the first round. Unless you’re Mark Spector. It will be the first of three meetings on the season.
December 3rd: The next day, the Kings will head down the freeway to take on the Ducks. Not only is this notable because it’s the first game of the season between these two rivals, but the Kings will get to face Dustin Penner, who played for them in the last three seasons, for the first time since he left after this past season. It will be the first of five meetings on the season.
December 10th: The Kings will head to Montreal and get to see former teammate Davis Drewiske for the first time since he was traded to the Canadiens during this past season. Drewiske will make his return to LA with the Habs on March 3rd.
December 11th: The next day the Kings will head to Toronto, where new Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier may get a chance to stick it to the team that forced him to rot on the bench for the last few years. Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens will also be making their returns to Toronto. Bernier will then make his return to LA with the Leafs on March 13th.
December 15th: The Kings will take on the defending champs, as they head to Chicago, where this past season ended for them with a Patrick Kane hat trick overtime goal, and they will get their first chance at revenge on the team that eliminated them in five games in the Western Conference final and took away their title as the defending Stanley Cup champions. Daniel Carcillo will also make his return to Chicago and may get to face his former team for the first time since they traded him to the Kings after this past season. It will be the first of three meetings on the season.
January 25th: The Kings will host the Ducks in an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium, as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, or something.
January 30th: The Kings will host the Penguins, and Rob Scuderi will make his return to Staples Center to play the team he spent the last four years with for the first time since heading back to the Pens after this past season. The Kings will then head to Pittsburgh to take Scuderi on again on March 27th.
February 1st: The Kings will host the Flyers, and Jeff Carter will get to face his former team for the first time. Then on March 24th, he’ll get to play in Philadelphia for the first time since he was traded from there. The Blue Jackets did play in Philly while Carter was with them, but he missed that game because of an injury. February 1st is also when Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn will play in LA for the first time since the Kings traded them to the Flyers over two years ago as part of the Mike Richards trade. Simon Gagne will also be making his return to LA for the first time since the Kings traded him back to the Flyers during this past season (I’m still assuming he’s going to re-sign with the Flyers).
March 20th: The Kings will host the Capitals, and then will head to Washington on the 25th. This is only notable because technically there’s a chance Jeff Schultz will be facing his former team for the first time… Yeah, not really notable, is it.
April 12th: The Kings will host the Ducks in their final game of the regular season.
Some other notes from the Kings’ schedule: they will play 14 sets of back-to-back games (October 3rd-4th, 29th-30th, November 14th-15th, December 2nd-3rd, 10th-11th, 14th-15th, 30th-31st, January 20th-21st, 27th-28th, February 26th-27th, March 9th-10th, 24th-25th, April 2nd-3rd and 9th-10th). In none of these sets will the Kings get to play both games in the same city. From January 4th-13th and from March 13th-22nd, the Kings will have five-game homestands, their longest of the season. Their longest road trip is also five games, from January 16th-23rd in St. Louis, Detroit, Boston, Columbus and Anaheim. The Kings will host the Blue Jackets on February 6th, and then because of the Olympic break, won’t play again until they’re in Colorado on February 26th. The NHL going on break for almost three weeks because of the Olympics is probably why the Kings have to play so many back-to-back games, so, for the second straight season, the schedule could be quite demanding, since the NHL would probably like to finish before July. The trade deadline will be March 5th, while the first day of free agency will be back to its regular July 1st date, as it was pushed back to the 5th this year because the season lasted late into June because of the lockout pushing everything back (everything that it didn’t cancel, that is).
The Kings’ full schedule can be found here: http://kings.nhl.com/club/schedule.htm.
In addition, you can find their preseason schedule here: http://kings.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=678254.
One last note — Jordan Nolan has been re-signed to a two-year contract worth $1.4 million, avoiding arbitration with the club. The Kings’ situation in respect to the salary cap next season doesn’t look so great, but this contract carries a cap hit of just $700K. That said, that still leaves the Kings with just $1,578,106 in cap space, and Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford — two important bottom-six forwards for the team — still aren’t signed. I remind you that, including those two players, the Kings are two players over the roster limit, so they’ll have to get rid of two players in training camp, and that should allow them to get under the salary cap even after re-signing Lewis and Clifford. However, there are rumblings the Kings and Clifford aren’t close on a new contract, and that the Kings are shopping him. Some are speculating that the Kings brought in a guy like Carcillo because they don’t think they’ll be able to keep Clifford. We’ll see how the situation with him unfolds. Not a whole lot of talk about Lewis out there, but he is scheduled for an arbitration hearing with the team on August 2nd, if an agreement isn’t reached before then, like what happened with Nolan. Clifford, on the other hand, did not file for arbitration, as he was not eligible for it.
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Update: Lewis did indeed avoid arbitration with the Kings, signing a one-year contract worth $1.325 million with the team just a day after I posted this. I’m somewhat surprised he only got a one-year deal, since he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency next year. However, with the Kings’ ugly cap situation, perhaps they didn’t want to do a multi-year deal with him, as they could probably use some flexibility next year, even with the cap probably going up then. And, if they end up wanting to keep him after next season, re-signing a guy like him shouldn’t be too much trouble. This leaves the Kings with just $253,106 of cap space left for the upcoming season, and Clifford still unsigned, but again, including him they are two players over the roster limit, so I think they can still sign him. When they get rid of two players in training camp, that should allow them to get under the salary cap, even after re-signing Clifford.