Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NHL Realignment and Road Trips

The NHL announced its realignment plan for next year and it is mildly disappointing for road trippers. There will be four conferences aligned geographically, two with eight teams and two with seven. There is no more east/west separation, rather teams will play their interconference rivals 5 or 6 times and each other team twice, once at home and once away. The first two playoff rounds will be contested within each conference, with the semifinals seeded based on regular season records.

The Leafs are in a 7-team conference that includes their current Northeast Division foes plus Florida and Tampa Bay. They will play three home and three road games against these teams (36 games) plus one home and away against the rest of the league (46 games). Compare that to the situation now, where they play 24 divisional, 40 conference, and 18 non-conference games and you can see that the new alignment reduces the variety in opponents.

For road trip planning, this makes things slightly harder since I am more interested in seeing the Leafs against non-divisional teams on the road. This season I had 29 chances; next season this number will be reduced to 23. Essentially half the road games against each of the 10 teams in the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions are being replaced by an additional four games against Florida and Tampa Bay and 6 games against Western teams. The Leafs will visit every rink in the league now, which is an improvement, but overall there is going to be less chance to see them.

Overall, the league will see 45% of the schedule composed of interconference matchups, compared to 78% now, so in one sense there is more variety, but this is somewhat misleading as there are far fewer teams in a conference.

I am disappointed that the playoffs will be conference based as again, there is less variety. I think the top 4 teams in each conference should be seeded 1-16 and play from there, but of course, this could result in a lot more travel, so it will not change. The good news is that Toronto is in a smaller conference so they have a slightly better chance of making the playoffs then under the current system, but that will change when the league expands to Quebec.

The most interesting aspect will be the elimination of the east and west, which will increase the odds that the two best teams will meet in the finals, as long as they don't come from the same conference. Whatever the case, I am looking forward to the schedule being released and planning my next NHL roadtrip.



Update: The NHLPA ixnayed the realignment, citing travel concerns and the unfair playoffs. Good on them - they've been pushovers for far too long. Just move Winnipeg and one of Detroit/Columbus/Nashville and be done with it until we get teams in Quebec and Seattle!

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