GLENDALE -- I'm all in on the NHL's new realignment plan. Yes, I understand this was announced several weeks ago, but I wanted to take time to let it sink in before giving my thoughts. Also, the Coyotes were really busy at that time and I was too focused on that. But now that time has passed, let's take a look at why the league's new format figures to be pretty beneficial across the board.
First, let's start from the Phoenix perspective. The Coyotes find themselves in a division with Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Three teams from that list will make the playoffs each year, with the possibility of up to two more "wild cards" joining the mix. And who doesn't like the "wild card?” Just the phrase itself makes it seem like unpredictable hi-jinx could be just around the corner.
Now, there's essentially two ways to look at this. On the one hand, the Coyotes are in a group comprised of seven total teams instead of eight. Simple math alone dictates that they should have a better chance of cracking the postseason each year, as teams in the Eastern Conference find themselves in eight-team clusters. Then again, who cares about simple math? Nobody, that's who. And teams in the East are all so close together that they can pretty much buy a bus pass and have their travel covered for the year. This is a good way to even things out for the Western Conference clubs who have to log all those extra miles between road games, and it maintains all the major rivalries. Phoenix will still see the Kings at least four times a year and, in case you haven't noticed, those two clubs seem to be building a bit of a history with each other. They'll also maintain consistent contact with the Ducks and Sharks. In fact, a closer look at their new division reveals what may very well be the most competitive group in this new format.
Not only are last year's two Western Conference finalists involved, Vancouver joins Anaheim and San Jose as three more teams that have had plenty of success of late. Then why not throw the Oilers in there too, just for fun? True, they haven't made the playoffs since the 2005-06 campaign. But they've stockpiled so many top draft picks over the past few years that anyone close to the game will tell you without hesitation that their future is extremely bright. And, once they get good, they figure to stay that way for a while. So yes, there are only seven teams in the division -- but they're all dangerous.
Aside from how it impacts the Coyotes directly, three other main points stand out about the new realignment plan. For one, I'm impressed that it's going into effect next season. No point in waiting, but most major governing bodies in sports just don't move all that quickly. If this was college football, the new system would be implemented in 2037. And it would somehow involve an SEC team in the championship every year.
Secondly, I like that they put this together with geography in mind. Yes, they maintained rivalries, but they did so in a way that makes sense when looking at a map. Minnesota shouldn't be in the Northwest Division. They just shouldn't. Did Lewis and Clark teach us nothing? What if children are learning their North American cities and they only have the NHL standings as their guide? Somebody needed to think about the children, and the new realignment plan does just that.
Finally -- and maybe most importantly -- every team will play in every NHL arena at least once a season. That may not seem like much on the surface, but when you stop to think about it, it had to be done. Fans in every city should have a chance to go watch their favorite out-of-town players at least once a year, no matter what conference they're in. It's just good marketing. Personally, I want the option to see Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin play hockey in person every single year. And I want people on the east coast to experience firsthand just how dynamic someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson is on the blue line. It grows the game when the entire product is available to everyone. And the league managed to do it without sacrificing rivalry games.
So there you have it. The only thing left to do now is name the divisions because I don't think Division A, B, C and D is going to fly for very long. Do they just go with geography again? Pacific, Central, Northeast and Atlantic? Or bring back the classic Smyth, Norris, Adams and Patrick? Or maybe even implement newer names like Orr, Howe, etc? The possibilities are endless. As long as they don't name them after Kardashians. In which case, forget everything I just wrote.
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