by Lisa Brown on 12/06/11 at 03:00 PM ET
Change can be difficult for anyone and everyone, especially where money is involved. And the NHL is big money.
The NHL Board of Governors met yesterday to discuss potential realignment scenarios to reflect the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg and the possible relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes. Although the NHL is still committed to making the Phoenix Coyotes work, they need to be prepared for the possibility that the team will need to be moved, that Glendale will no longer be able and or willing to cover losses.
The NHL’s Board of Governors met in Pebble Beach California and as reported by Ryan Dittrick of the Edmonton Oilers, Partick LaForge, Oilers’ President and COO has commented “I’m not allowed to speak about how the vote went, but it was almost unanimous.”
In case you haven’t seen it yet, there are a series of Gary Bettman videos addressing the re-alignment, the BOG meeting and the process involved. Here is Bettman on the format details:
The alignment would see a reduction from the current six divisions and two conferences to a four conference system. The top four teams from every conference would make the playoffs, but because there are two conferences with 8 teams and two conferences with 7 teams, the 7 team conferences have a 57% chance of making the playoffs while the 8 team conferences only have a 50% chance.
With the current suggested system, the playoffs would not be re-seeded until the third round of playoffs, and potentially you could see a final between two teams on the same side of the North American continent. With the current East vs West interests, and time zones, that doesn’t sound great to me. Essentially, if it is two Eastern teams playing in the finals, all games will be on early for those in California (and the rest of the west) and there will be less opportunity as well as incentive to watch these games. With the NHL still pursuing that elusive and amazing American TV deal, I hope they will re-evaluate the playoff scenario. Ideally, I would love to see the top 8 teams from the west and the top 8 teams from the east make the playoffs, irrespective of which conference they are in. But, even that idea has some negatives.
As it stands, the Oilers would be in as of yet unnamed conference A consisting of: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado. This may mean fewer trades with Los Angeles and fewer games against the Minnesota Wild, who the Oilers only just recently beat for the first time in years in Minnesota.
In terms of how the Oilers feel, Patrick LaForge explains that the Oilers are happy with what has been proposed “It sees us travel just two time zones for most of our games, which saves on travel; and it’s the best option for our TV viewers, since they’re only a one-hour later start time at worst.”
I find that an interesting comment from LaForge since most of the Oilers games are against western teams now, and most games are only an hour earlier or later currently. The exception is of course any games against the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Detroit Red Wings, but reducing the number of games played in the Eastern time zone does hopefully make the positive viewing differences that LaForge refers to; unless of course you are an Oiler fan living in Eastern Canada, or in Europe.
LaForge also commented on playing every team in the league “Playing an 82-game schedule against all the teams in the league is even for everyone. I think its good; it makes sense. Also, we’ll have 22 games against teams not in our conference, and those will be like post-season games because you’re playing to seed the teams in the Top 4.”
I like the idea of seeing every team meet at least once a season and I especially would also love to see each team play the other at home and away throughout the season. This type of schedule would make ultimate sport trips a little easier to plan, hopefully.
It seems that several Oilers would also like to see home and away meet-ups with all of the NHL teams. Ryan Dittrick took comments from several Oilers players on this possibility. Oilers’ centre Eric Belanger sees it as a good situation for everyone. “I think it would be nice to be able to go in every building in the league and have a home-and-home series. I think home teams’ fans would like to see that, too, and it would be good for the league as a whole.”
Similarily defenceman Ryan Whitney commented “That makes a season seat pretty valuable if you’re going to see every team in your own building that year. I think the one thing is people mention how tough travel can be, but you’ve got to look at it both ways. I think that whole four conferences idea, it looked pretty cool and it looks like ours would probably be the strongest, so it’s a good idea and I’m curious to see what will happen.”
Another Ryan, Ryan Smyth also loves the idea “You get to see new teams, new and exciting players; the fans get to experience that as well, which is huge. We see some teams as many as six times a season, excluding the pre-season. Knocking that down wouldn’t be a bad thing, and I don’t think the rivalries would be taken away at all.”
If players are interested in this type of schedule scenario and if they see it as being good for the league, the NHLPA will most likely not object to the proposed changes. According to Josh Dubow of the Globe and Mail , NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon has said “Realignment requires an agreement between the league and the NHLPA, We look forward to continuing our discussions with the league regarding this matter.”
As a minor point, this may make shootouts and games in general a little more exciting as well. Already, teams have caught on to the Oilers; their players are trying to stop and defend against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. We knew it would happen soon, but watching video and playing against a player 6 six times during the regular season is different. With inter-conference games totaling four each, that could give goaltenders and players less on ice time every season to figure each other out. That may be a stretch, but I would be interested to see how things work out and what sort of post game comments result from the type of schedule, should these changes be implemented.
Despite the many, many unanswered questions overall the Oilers seem to be in support of proposed changes as they stand, and although my opinion as an Oilers fan is far less important, I don’t mind what I have seen and read so far either. I would like to see the playoff plan investigated further, and potentially changed, but four
conferences don’t seem all that bad.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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