Over the weekend, the Internet exploded as word started to spread about an NHL realignment plan that is "gaining steam." Here's what the divisions would look like:
Some tidbits about the schedule:
-Teams would play home-and-homes with teams outside their division, with the remaining being played within the division. No clue how the numbers break down on this, but it seems like 5 games a year against divisional opponents sounds about right. With those home-and-homes, teams would play either 44 or 46 games against non-divisional teams. That leaves basically half the schedule open to divisional games. Compare that to the 24 divisional games the Pens see every year in the current alignment.
-The playoff seeding will return to how it was in the old days (before 1993-94), with the top 4 teams in each division seeded 1 to 4 and pairing down on a collision course with the other division in the Conference Finals. There is some dust being kicked up about this new playoff format, as teams in 8-team divisions feel like it's unfair. It'll be unfair in years that everyone is good. It'll be fair in the years when you get to pound on one extra team every year. Moot point.
Read More, as we break all of this down...
When looking at the Western Conference, it makes all the sense in the world. It's almost too perfect. Dallas and Phoenix get the short end of the travel stick due to their location. In the East, Tampa Bay, the Panthers, and Carolina also get the short end of the stick for the same reason.
You've probably noticed by now that these proposed divisions separate the Penguins and Flyers, a rivalry which, according to early Internet reports, is the only reason some people are Pens fans. According to Elliotte Friedman, the Penguins are pretty pissed about the Pens and Flyers splitting up. Hell, we're pissed off, too. Nothing like the morning after a win against the Flyers to put an extra jump in your step.
But unfortunately, it's not the Penguins Hockey League. This realignment is all about geography and getting an increase in television ratings almost league-wide. As we said before, the Western Conference divisions are beautiful. The West Coast teams in the U.S. and Canada will basically be their own league. And it's easy to just draw a line down the center of the North American continent for the other Western Division.
And then comes the East. What to do. Well, it would make limited sense to have Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina in a division with a Canadian team, so scratch them out of the Northeast Division. So, where will those southern teams fall? Since the new alignment will be based on geography, it's probably best to start with the easiest alignments and then work from there. Nothing is easier than grouping the Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, and Capitals in one division:
Easily the smallest amount of land area between any 5 NHL teams. We're doing 8-team divisions, you say? Let's grab those 3 teams from the south, group them with the Atlantic, and call it a day. And this is basically what happened.
A big reason everyone is up in arms about the realignment is that it takes the Penguins away from their Atlantic Division brethren, a division where we've grown a healthy distaste for all parties involved. Gone will be the multiple emotional trips to MSG, the dread surrounding a Friday night trip to Newark, the uncertainty with trips to Long Island, and of course heading to Philly. If Detroit comes over to the East, the NHL will be getting rid of two of the best rivalries in the sport, being Pens-Philly and Detroit-Chicago.
Keeping with geography, let's take a look at the miles the Pens will travel in this new division, using Detroit as the likely choice to move to the East.
485 miles to Boston
473 miles to Montreal
408 miles to Ottawa
210 miles to Detroit
209 miles to Toronto
149 miles to Buffalo
And let's take a look at what Philly would be dealing with in their new division:
294 miles to Newark
109 miles to Nassau
92 miles to MSG
122 miles to Washington, DC
336 miles to Raleigh
597 miles from Raleigh to Tampa Bay
195 miles from Tampa Bay to Miami
1,745 miles, and that's assuming all trips to the south would be a hop, skip, and a jump.
These travel amounts basically mean nothing. We just wanted to calculate it. All that matters is that NJ, NYR, PHI, WAS, and NYI are too easy to group together into one division. The southern teams join them by default since it's idiotic to put Florida in the same division with the Canadiens.
The Pens dealt with this alignment back in the mid-'90s when, from 1993-94 to 1997-98, they were in the Northeast Division with Buffalo, Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, and teams like the Whalers and Nordiques. When Nashville joined the league in 1998-'99, the league had to rethink their shit, and the Atlantic Division as we've known it since then was born. And speaking of the Nordiques, there are talks of them getting a team again. And with the situations developing in Phoenix and Long Island, there may be some restructuring of these divisions in a couple of years anyway.
So, by missing out on being in a division with the Flyers, the Pens will not be playing them 6 times per season or even 5 times a season. Instead, the Pens and Philly will play twice per season with a Conference Finals matchup always on the menu. Philadelphia has made their bed with NYR, NYI, NJ, and WAS, so it's easier in this situation to blame the country's founding fathers on making Philadelphia such a big deal. Games against the Pens' old Atlantic buddies (and Washington) will have a special feel to them. It's not like the Flyers are defecting to the KHL.
Meanwhile, the Pens will go into previously chartered waters, reuniting with some old flames to the north. The Pens already play their future divisional rivals 4 times per season, but it will be the Penguins against the world in that division, since Pittsburgh will be seen as the kid no one wanted to adopt. Some people won't survive divisional games up in Montreal and Toronto and eventually Ottawa. The rivalry with Boston goes back to the 1991 and 1992 playoffs and has been rekindled by Matt Cooke and Tim Thomas' weight problem. A Pens-Buffalo rivalry has always been one that deserved some attention. And possibly Detroit. Oh, God, Detroit.
Basically, due to geography, the cards have fallen. Can't wait to not be able to get past the Wings in the first round every year.