The National Hockey League is something of a mess right now.
Last season, we saw the demise of the Atlanta Thrashers at the hands of a dwindling fan base and the inability to support a Northeastern sport. Losing a team is tough, however, I have no doubt the team is much happier in its new home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnipeg was without a team for far too long, seeing as the original Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, a franchise that is also failing.
Despite the slew of excited Canadians, the return of the Jets has caused quite a bit of problems for the NHL. Due to the fact that the Thrashers were members of the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, the Jets had to fill that place exactly as Atlanta had left it. That leaves us with one small problem: Winnipeg is far from the Southeast border of the NHL. They're not even within the borders of the Eastern Conference. There was a clear need for a conference realignment.
Rather than making a simple alteration and switching Winnipeg with a more centrally located team (Detroit or Chicago, perhaps), the NHL board of governors took the opportunity to essentially start from scratch. What we got was four conferences, no divisions and a headache.
One can see the appeal: Four conferences allow for more games between geographic rivals, not to mention a clearer division between each conference. This new system isn't complicated by any means; you don't have to be an NHL aficionado to understand the new layout. The final result is actually quite simple. It's all just a bit unnecessary.
Here is the current blueprint for the new conferences which are, as of yet, unnamed:
Conference No. 1: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina.
Conference No. 2: Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Conference No. 3: Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg.
Conference No. 4: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado.
It all seems fine and dandy until you take a closer look at each conference. The new playoff system allows for the top four teams in each conference to advance past the regular season. Let's use Buffalo as an example. Consider our primary threats in the Eastern Conference at the moment: Consistent leaders like Washington and Pittsburgh are suddenly less of a problem for us. We can breathe a sigh of relief that our admittance into the playoffs isn't directly dependent on how well those and other consistently efficient teams play (well, the consistently efficient teams who are no longer in our conference).
As you may have noticed, two of the new conferences currently have eight teams, while the other two are left with seven. This is hinting at other possible changes to balance out the remaining voids in the system. There is talk of the Quebec Nordiques returning, after being relocated and renamed the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. An arena is already under construction there, though the NHL has not officially addressed these rumors yet. There is also talk of another team in Toronto, and the city could certainly support two hockey teams. I don't see any Leafs fans abandoning their beloved team any time soon. Likewise, the NHL has not officially commented on this situation.
I could sit here and argue the pros and cons of this new layout for hours; the lists for both are virtually endless. We'll just have to wait and see how things play out next season to know for sure how efficient this new system actually is.
Danielle Grimm is a junior at Clarence High School.