By Mike Harrington
The NHL couldn't possibly get every bit of realignment right. Too many divergent viewpoints and issues. And I figure it will get "more right" in a few years when they figure out the Phoenix situation, get Quebec back in the league and get to 32 teams so we'll have four divisions of eight teams apiece.
But for now, the league got a lot right in the plan that was officially approved Thursday. I'm not a huge fan of playoffs within the division but I like the idea of having wild cards. I HATED the idea of a fifth-place team in one division having more points than No. 4 in another and missing the postseason. That can't happen now, so that's good. If one division is strong and gets five teams in and one is weak and only gets three in, so be it.
The competition will be fierce. Don't crab about the system. Finish in the top 3 and you'll be in. As for the Sabres, good luck doing that in the immediate future.
You have always-tough Boston, resurgent Montreal and growing Ottawa and Toronto. And now you throw in Detroit. Great for fans to see the Wings but tough for the Sabres to compete with. But hey, back in the days when Terry Pegula actually said things for public consumption, the silent Sabres owner pointed to the Red Wings as a model franchise. So there's something to shoot for.
As for the Florida teams, it's going to be tough on them in this arrangement. Neither one is any good right now and the travel will kill them. Here's my quick look around the rest of the realignment planet:
Detroit -- While the Red Wings lose an Original Six rivalry with Chicago, they pick up old ones with the likes of Toronto, Boston and Montreal. And they no longer have to worry about a playoff run against, say, Anaheim-San Jose-Phoenix. They're struggling this year in the post-Lidstrom era and it's possible their 21-season run of playoff berths could end. But if it does, who thinks that's not just a blip on the radar?
Columbus -- The Blue Jackets had just horrendous travel (twice a year to places like Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver!) and now that's gone. President John Davidson termed the realignment "common sense." They get to kindle a rivalry with Pittsburgh, which has long been dormant even though that's as close an NHL city to them. They'll get more visits from the Rangers and old friend Rick Nash too. By the way, without Nash they've gone a franchise-record nine straight games with a point after losing last night in a shootout to Chicago. They've beaten Detroit four straight times.
Winnipeg -- Plainly obvious. Out of the East and the Southeast Division. Can start a new rivalry with Minnesota and return to the old days of Edmonton and Calgary wars, even though they're not in the division with the Oilers and Flames. If Atlanta never fell apart, we're probably not doing any realignment
Dallas -- They get far more games in the Central time zone, a boon for TV/radio (and newspaper deadlines). Plenty of hatred to foster with teams like St. Lous, Chicago and Nashville. And, hey, there's still all kinds of bad feelings with Minnesota from 20 years ago too.
Tampa Bay & Florida -- It's a loss on the hockey side with the constant travel just to get to division games. Every division game is going to be a three-hour flight and there will be numerous customs trips to get to Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. You wonder after 82 games how their players are going to hold up. On the business side, however, it looks like a huge win. The Lightning and Panthers are basically in the Snowbirds Division. Think about how many people from the other teams winter in Florida and can help fill seats in those two arenas.
Nashville -- The Preds stay in the West and now become that side's Eastern-most outpost. They lose their big rivalry in Detroit and the league didn't get them in with Carolina and the Florida teams. And they'll continue to do all that truckin' to Alberta and the Pacific Ocean. Still, they're relatively happy with the whole situation. I'm surprised.
Chicago -- They're the only Original Six team left in the West. That makes them a loser. But shouldn't they be a huge favorite in their division for several years running? That would make them a winner.
Washington -- They have a much tougher division now. No more simply trying to beat out the Florida teams and Carolina. You're talking Pittsburgh, Philly, the Rangers and Devils. Great for TV and NHL competition, not great for the going-nowhere Ovechkins.