The NHL has proposed division realignment for next season and as long as the NHLPA doesn’t decide to block it (again), we will see a fresh new look to the league next season.
The new set-up makes a lot of sense geographically for just about every team in the league. Dallas gets out of playing Pacific time zone teams, Winnipeg gets out of the southeast division, and Detroit and Columbus move to the eastern conference. The only two oddities involve Tampa Bay and Florida, who play northern based teams.
So how does this affect the Canucks you ask? I’m glad you asked…
The cake walk is over
Well, they no longer get a cake walk for a division. They still get a healthy dose of Calgary and Edmonton (though Edmonton may get real good real soon). But the new teams in their division will all be strong. They will play their divisional rivals 4-5 times a year, teams from the mid-west 3 times a year and teams from the eastern conference 2 times a year.
If we assumed that every team would have put up the same amount of points last year under this format (which of course wouldn’t happen because the spread of games would be different, but please indulge me for a moment), the playoffs would have looked a lot different. The Canucks would have played the lowest ranked wild card team, Calgary (yes, Calgary!), in the first round. Had they won that, they would have played the winner of Phoenix and San Jose. As one of the two wild card entries, Los Angeles would have played-off against the mid-west teams (St Louis, Nashville and Chicago). In the east, Ottawa would have missed the playoffs and the number one seed in their division, Boston (102 points), would have played New Jersey (102 points) in the first round! Fun!
1. Vancouver vs 4. Calgary (wild card #2)
2. Phoenix vs 3. San Jose
1. St Louis vs 4. Los Angeles (wild card #1)
2. Nashville vs 3. Chicago
1. Boston vs 4. New Jersey (wild card #1)
2. Detroit vs 3. Florida
1. NY Rangers vs 4. Washington (wild card #2)
2. Pittsburgh vs 3. Philadelphia
7 team division/14 team conference
The Canucks happen to be in a 7 team division and in a 14 team conference, and that’s great news. It may not seem like much, but simple math tells us that it’s advantageous to have fewer teams to compete for a playoff spot with.
If you want to take a vacation somewhere interesting and watch the Canucks in a visiting arena, division realignment is good news for you. They will travel to California and Phoenix 3 times a year instead of twice. They will travel to Florida and New York every season instead of every second season.
Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Stamkos
You may recognize these names from your hockey pools, but have never seen them play in person. Well now you can! Every eastern team will visit Vancouver and that means a lot more visits from many of the marquee players in the league.
The Canucks will lose a little something with their biggest rival, Chicago, who they will play one less time per season and are less likely to meet in the playoffs. They will gain a little something with Boston, who they will meet one more time per season. But most importantly, they will likely strengthen rivalries with Los Angeles and San Jose who they will play more often in the playoffs.
Remember the Smythe Division?
The new playoff format calls for the top 3 teams in each division plus 2 wild cards in each conference to make the playoffs. The first two rounds will be division based, something that we haven’t seen in the NHL since 1992-93. What worries me about this new format is that we may see a return to having the Stanley Cup Final being played in the second round. This was never more evident than the battle of Alberta in the 1980s where Edmonton played Calgary every year in the second round. For years Vancouver, Los Angeles and Winnipeg were the whipping boys for these two powerhouses while mediocre teams from the Norris division waltzed to the conference finals. While this is less likely in a salary cap system, it’s still a concern in my opinion.