Welcome to the West . . . Maybe. - Marianne Helm
The NHL wants the Jets out of the Eastern Conference, and they'll uproot the whole league to do it.
As anyone who would ever visit this blog knows, the NHL has been mulling over a new realignment plan earlier this week. This plan still needs the approval of the Players' Association and the Board of Governors, and you'll remember from last year that the PA and the NHL don't necessarily see eye to eye on the issue of realignment. But it's still possible that the PA will accept this proposal, so I think it's worth taking a look at how such a realignment would affect the Ducks.
In the new alignment, Winnipeg joins the Western Conference while Columbus and Detroit head East, resulting in unbalanced conferences. The West will have only 14 teams, while the East will have 16. Each conference will send eight teams to the playoffs, meaning that, all things being equal, any given Western team's chance of making the cut is 8 in 14, and any given Eastern team's chance is 8 in 16. (Yes, this is inherently unfair to the teams in the Eastern Conference, which is why I can't wholeheartedly support this model, by the way. But I'm not here to argue that right now.)
But it isn't as simple as the 8 teams with the best records making it and the other six (in the West) or eight (in the East) missing it. The top three teams in each division are guaranteed a spot, and the other two spots in each conference go to the two remaining teams with the best records. So in the West, three scenarios are possible:
1. Three teams from the Pacific Division and five from the Midwest Division will make the playoffs.
2. Four teams from the Pacific Division and four from the Midwest Division will make the playoffs.
3. Five teams from the Pacific Division and three from the Midwest Division will make the playoffs.
So now you've got to look at the teams in the Pacific. Well, we've got Los Angeles, San Jose, and Phoenix of course. But now we also have Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. That figures to be a pretty competitive group, especially with the impending rise of the Oilers. The Ducks will play five of those six teams five times and the other one four times, and those six teams will be the ones the Ducks will be in the most direct competition with when it comes to playoff seeding.
Personally, I'm pretty happy about the Ducks playing Dallas less and the western Canadian teams more. Ducks-Flames games over the last several years in particular seem to have a knack for finding overtime, and who doesn't want to see more of that? And how about that Ducks-Oilers rivalry, created by Chris Pronger, Brian Burke, Kevin Lowe, and Dustin Penner? Okay, fine, that one might be dead by now, but . . . Okay it's definitely dead.
Under this realignment scheme, the Ducks will be playing an even higher proportion of their games in the Pacific and Mountain time zones than they have in the past, which will further insulate them from the not-so-watchful eyes of the East Coast-based national hockey media. In other words, prepare to witness even more ignorance masquerading as legitimate analysis on the NHL Network when it comes to Ducks games. But maybe that's a good thing.
Looking at the rest of the map, the Ducks will see Midwest Division foes three times a year and Eastern Conference teams twice a year, which means significantly less time against the Blue Jackets and Red Wings. For the wishful thinkers and rivalry calculators among us, it means the possibility of a Ducks-Red Wings matchup in the Stanley Cup Final someday. And if Teemu Selanne does come back for a season or four, he'll get to spend just a little bit more time in Winnipeg Jets, which is, by anyone's estimation, a pretty cool thing.
In the long run, the realignment format proposed by the NHL helps the Ducks. They get to fight 13 other teams for a ticket to the dance instead of the 14 that they have been competing with or the 15 that an Eastern Conference team would have to deal with under the new plan. It's not fair, and I won't be surprised or dismayed if the Players' Association rejects it, but I can't say I'll be disappointed if they don't.