By Brandon Humber
The NHL will feature a revamped league organization and playoff format for the 2013-2014 season.
On March 14, the league’s Board of Governors approved the realignment proposal that was put before them last week.
The league will move from a two-conference format, containing three divisions of four or five teams, to a format that features two conferences with two divisions in which there are seven or eight teams.
“It fixes a lot of issues that clubs like Detroit and Columbus and Dallas and Minnesota and Winnipeg had in terms of being geographically misaligned,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the NHL Network.
Winners and losers
This means in the Western conference will contain 16 teams, while the East will only host 14.
Globe and Mail hockey columnist Bruce Dowbiggin said one of the biggest winners with the new format is the Detroit Red Wings.
“Detroit does okay because they get back into the Eastern Time zone, they don’t have to start a bunch of their games at 10 o’clock at night,” Dowbiggin said.
“They also get in with some traditional rivals from the old days like Montreal and Boston and Toronto,” he said.
The Red Wings, one of the NHL’s original six teams, has been grouped with almost entirely geographically western teams since the 1998 realignment.
Detroit and the Columbus Blue Jackets are located closer to cities like Toronto and Buffalo than teams in their conference like the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues.
This means the Red Wings and Blue Jackets, who play against conference opponents more often than teams in the East, must travel much farther over a season than most teams.
Similarly, the Winnipeg Jets, formerly based in Atlanta and who are currently playing in the Eastern conference, are located comparatively more West than most teams are in the Eastern conference.
With the change next year, the Jets will make the move to the west.
“The travel for the Jets has been really tough the past couple of years,” Dowbiggin said.
Jets chairman Mark Chipman told NHL.com that he was pleased with the realignment.
“I think it’s very exciting for us as an organization and for our fans to be geographically located where we ought to be,” Chipman said.
The new setup isn’t perfect, though, with the uneven conferences causing some issues when it comes to teams qualifying for the playoffs.
The top three teams from each division (six in the East and six in the West) will automatically make the playoffs, while the seventh and eighth seed in each conference will have the next highest total points.
This means it will be possible for five teams from one division to make up the eight playoff teams in a conference.
It also means teams in the smaller Western conference will have a 1-in-14 shot of making the postseason, while in the East teams will have a 1-in-16 chance.
“The NHL says it shouldn’t matter, that the best eight teams will still get in the playoffs from each conference, but you have to like your chances if there’s two fewer teams to get in,” Dowbiggin said.
Less travel, more money
“It helps you in a league where there’s so much parity, any advantage is a big advantage,” he said.
He also said the alignment may improve the league’s bottom-line, with lower travel costs and possibly increased revenue from advertisers.
“The broadcasters will be a lot happier. If you’re in Vancouver and the team plays in the Eastern time-zone, those games are coming on at four in the afternoon in your local time-zone, most of the audience is still working and going to school,” Dowbiggin said.
“It’s hard to sell advertisers on games that way…so I think for broadcasters there will be a certain advantage.”