By Matt Ginn
A little over a year ago the NHL owners proposed and approved of a significant shift in the conferences. Rather than 5 team divisions they were going to have 4 conferences each consisting of 7-8 teams. Each conference would have 4 teams qualify for the playoffs, which was great for the teams in the smaller conferences, and inherently unfair to the teams in the larger conferences. After the NHL fan base got excited about the possibilities of seeing every team on their home ice every year (something that doesn’t happen now, particularly in a strike shortened season in which no out-of-conference games are being played), the NHLPA (players association) voted the move down and the plan was scrapped. Some thought it was premature posturing on their part in advance of the upcoming CBA work stoppage, but the players had legitimate concerns regarding imbalanced travel schedules and the confusing playoff setup. Today, reports have started circulating that the plan is gaining momentum again.
Ultimately, this has been a long time coming. When a team moves from Atlanta to Winnipeg but stays in the “Southeast” division there are going to be travel issues. When teams from Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are playing in the Western Conference and having to make multiple road trips to California each season they will inevitably log more miles than a team in New York or New England. But the main reason that it has regained such momentum despite the NHLPA rejection last season is the home & home series between every team. As a Sharks fan it really sucks not getting to see Sidney Crosby in person even ONCE per year. Or missing out on an Original Six team or two. The main goal of conference realignment is to make sure every city gets visited by the biggest stars, whether they be franchises or players. The other most exciting part of the realignment process will inevitably be the myriad ways the NHL fucks up, slows down or otherwise mangles the process of implementing the changes. Because if there’s one thing hockey fans have learned to count on from Gary Bettman, it’s his ability to make things worse.