FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Steve Ott isn’t sold on the NHL’s latest realignment plan.
The league has been talking with the NHL Players’ Association about how best to revamp the NHL’s conferences. The latest proposal has Detroit and Columbus moving to the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg heads West.
While Ott agrees with that part, the Buffalo Sabres forward dislikes the league’s plan to have 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 in the East.
“That’s completely unfair,” Ott said Wednesday after practice in BB&T Center, where the Sabres visit the Florida Panthers tonight. “They preach parity and they preach having the same chance. Well, the goal in hockey is to make the playoffs. If they can come up with some magical formula where teams can have the same opportunity to make the playoffs, then I’m for it. I think that’s the biggest issue right now.
“How can you have 14 on one side and 16 on the other side? The percentages of making it in the East become that much greater.”
The NHL concedes the proposal, which still needs the approval of the board of governors and players’ union, isn’t perfect.
“We are trying to get to a solution that everybody can live with,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told NHL.com. “There are no perfect answers here, so we have to do the best we can in trying to adequately address a number of competing concerns.
“We certainly hope to be in a position to announce something in the relatively near term.”
The latest plan has two conferences with two divisions in each. The Eastern Conference would be split into a couple of eight-team divisions, while the West would have a pair of seven-club divisions. The breakdowns:
Eastern Conference, Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
Western Conference, Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver.
Western Conference, Midwest Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg.
Eight teams in each conference would make the playoffs. The top three teams in each division would qualify, and the remaining two “wild card” spots would go to the teams with the best records, regardless of division.
Every team would play each other at least twice, once at home and once on the road.
The Sabres got their first goal out of the way Tuesday by winning in Tampa. Their next goal is to score goals.
Buffalo’s list of slumping forwards is long. Jochen Hecht has no goals in 20 games this season. Nathan Gerbe is scoreless in 16. Marcus Foligno has no goals in the last 15 games and one in 20. Drew Stafford also has one in 20. Jason Pominville has one goal in 10 games. Ott has one in nine. Tyler Ennis has one goal in seven games.
“I’ve just got to work harder and play a little better,” Foligno said. “You want to get on the point sheet and the scoreboard, so I’ve got to get around the net a little more and chip in offensively.”
The Sabres tweaked their lines during practice. Cody Hodgson remained in the middle of left wing Thomas Vanek and Pominville. Ennis skated between Ott and Gerbe. Kevin Porter was flanked by Hecht and Stafford. Mikhail Grigorenko centered Foligno and Patrick Kaleta, while John Scott skated as the extra forward.
“I knew coming in that I would play a different role than before, but still you want to end up on the score sheet and put some pucks away,” Hecht said. “I’ve had some chances.”
Interim coach Ron Rolston continues to put his spin on the Sabres’ practices, including a session-ending breakaway relay race. He also repeatedly preached the importance of bearing down on scoring chances.
“Having the idea but actually getting the guys to go out and do it is another part of the coaching aspect,” Rolston said. “If you have all these great ideas and nothing’s getting done, it really doesn’t matter.”