Well, this is different. The NHL announced on Monday that, starting next season, there will no more divisions, and there will be no more Eastern and Western conferences. There will be four conferences. Two seven-team conferences, and two eight-team conferences.
One seven-team conference will consist of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The other will consist of the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
One eight-team conference will consist of the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
Finally, the eight-team conference that the Kings will play in next season. Joining them will be the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.
There are not yet names for the conferences, by the way. Realignment became necessary, of course, when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg at the end of last season. The Jets are playing in the Southeast Division this season, and obviously that can’t work for longer than this season. Rather than just moving them to the Central Division and moving a team like the Red Wings, Predators or Blue Jackets to the Southeast Division, the NHL opted for a full realignment, despite the fact that it will involve more travel for most teams, 26 of the 30 NHL teams voted in favour of the realignment.
So what does this all mean for the Kings? In the grand scheme of things, their air miles probably won’t be greatly changed by this. The Kings will play 44 games outside of their conference, each of the 22 other teams they will play once at home and once on the road. Meanwhile, you play the other 38 games against teams in your conference. Three of their division rivals they will play six times, three times at home and three times on the road, and the other four they will play five times. Two of those teams they will play three times on the road and twice at home, and the other two they will play twice on the road and three times at home. Who they play five and six times and who they play three times at home and who they play three times on the road will alternate on an annual basis. The format will be very similar for all teams, but for teams in a seven-team conference, their schedule inside their division will be a little bit different.
Finally, the playoff format. First of all, there will still be 16 teams making the playoffs, and they will still be best-of-seven series. The team with the higher seed will play games one, two, five and seven at home, while the team with the lower seed will play games three, four and six at home. None of that has changed. What is new, is that the top four teams from each conference will make the playoffs. The first seed will play the fourth seed, and the second seed will play the third seed. The two winners will play each other in the conference finals. Then, the four conference winners will be re-seeded based on their regular season point totals, and the first seed will play the fourth seed and the second seed will play the third seed. Then, the two winners will play in the Stanley Cup Finals.
So, that’s what’s new about the NHL starting next year. I really like this. It’s unique to all of the other sports and other leagues. Every team gets to play every team at home and on the road even if you’re not in the same conference. For the Kings, the travel may actually end up being better, and all of the other teams that had easy travel schedules will have to travel more, so it will be more even. Going back to a divisional playoff format seems like it’s going to be really cool. Rather than having 14 teams to keep track of in your conference, if you’re the Kings, you only have to keep track of seven. That, combined with the new playoff format, means that there will be lot more rivalries made, since there are fewer teams to play. If you have a great playoff series with a team during the divisional playoffs, well, you’ve got a decent chance to play them again next year. Even in the current playoff format, we’ve seen teams like Chicago and Vancouver play epic playoff series in three straight years, and the Red Wings and Sharks play in two straight years.
Also, although it’s hard to even predict what teams will look like by the end of the season, forget next season and beyond, the Kings’ conference doesn’t exactly look like a juggernaut. Essentially, the Kings’ conference is the Pacific Division and Northwest Division put together, minus the Stars and Wild. The Sharks and Canucks are definitely top-tier teams, and will be until further notice. The Coyotes, while not an elite team, always seem to find a way to hang around and at least be competitive. Meanwhile, the Flames are an old team and aren’t very good and don’t have a good prospect pool, meaning that the Kings shouldn’t have to worry about them at the top of the conference standings for a while. The Ducks are terrible this year, and they also have some older players and not a great prospect pool, so I’m not sure that they’re going to be competing at the top of the division for a while, either. Then, there are the Avalanche and Oilers. Neither are great teams right now, but unlike the Ducks and Flames, they are younger teams that have some prospects and appear like they could have bright futures ahead of them. How bright are those futures? When will they come? Who knows, which is why they’re sort of wild cards. Either way, the Kings certainly don’t appear to have been placed in the toughest of conferences, and if the Kings can play to their capabilities, then they should be able to be among the elite in this conference for years to come.
However, the future of the Phoenix Coyotes is, of course, murky to say the least. Will they even be in Phoenix next season? If not, it depends on where they move to, but either they will stay in the conference, they will go to another conference and the Kings’ conference will become a seven-team conference, or they will move to the other current eight-team conference and one of those teams will likely move into the Kings’ conference. For example, if they move to a place like Seattle, then they will just stay in this conference. If they move to a place like Kansas City, then they will likely slide into the other conference that already has eight teams, meaning one of the teams in that conference, most likely Dallas or Minnesota, will take their spot in the Kings’ conference. But if they move to a place like Quebec City, then they’ll likely move to the conference that currently has seven teams and consists of the current Northeast Division as well as both teams in Florida, and the Kings will just be left with a seven-team conference.
Many people have different views of the realignment, but I, personally, am a big fan of it, and can’t wait to see how it works out next season. What do you think of it?
NOTE: Oh yes, and here’s hoping that the Kings can find a way to win the Pacific Division this season. If they don’t, it means that they never will have won it. Also, they can be the defending Pacific Division champions forever, technically…