When I first began to follow hockey, I really was spoiled. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. First, I got to grow up listening to one of the legendary hockey voices, Gene Hart. Second, it was a time where the division and conference names were known and had meaning- Clarence Campbell Conference, Prince of Wales Conference. Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe. The names were all tied to the history of the game, they had character. But, they are long since gone.
Over the summer, the NHL announced how they were realigning the teams. Same Eastern and Western Conferences. But, new division names and some other changes. And, I think of all the changes, it’s the division names I really dislike the most. Pacific, Central and Atlantic are self explanatory, and reminiscent of the most recent names. But who thought Metropolitan was a good idea? While I would have loved to see the older names (like Patrick) brought back, I understand enough of the history of the game to know that the names have changed and realignment has happened consistently enough over the past few decades that for anyone who loved the Campbell and Wales conference names, there are going to be some who are passionate about Eastern/Western, and of course the old guard who will still champion the cause of the Original Six. Change is inevitable, and it’s not going to make everyone happy.
I understand the naming changes-at least part of the reason is to make things easier to figure out, as far as I can tell. To a casual fan, Adams, Smythe and such mean very little. Atlantic, Pacific, Northeast? Those make more sense, even to a casual fan. You can make some logical assumptions of which division a certain team might be in. And, with the exception of the Metropolitan in this newest realignment, the same easy to follow logic is in play. I am sure I will get used to it, but for the time being, I think they goofed on that one.
In terms of actual realignment, here’s how things shape up:
Pacifc: Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, LA, Anaheim and Phoenix
Central: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville and Winnipeg
Atlantic: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto
My thoughts on how things ended up? Considering the geography, this ought to be a positive for the league and fans for the most part. I dislike the naming, and really when you look at the teams in the Atlantic, only three teams in the division are close to the Atlantic (Tampa, Florida and Boston). In the Metropolitan, you have 6 of 8 teams that are closer to the coast. They may have gotten the alignment right there, but I think the Atlantic division ought to have been the group with Philadelphia and the three NYC area teams. Though, I’d venture a guess that it’s because of those three teams that the division got saddled with the Metropolitan moniker.
Big winners of the realignment? Outside of the teams travel budgets, I think the teams that made out best in the deal would be any Western Conference team-because Detroit is now an Eastern Conference resident. Time will tell on how things look long term, and at least the NHL was smart enough to only lock in to this current plan for three seasons in order to evaluate and reassess as the seasons unfold. If the changes allow for the Stanley Cup playoffs to be as exciting as they’ve been over the past few years, then these could be here to stay.