If all the whispers are to be believed, the NHL will soon announce it's realignment plan for the 2013-14 season and beyond. This weekend, ESPN, TSN, and CBC all broke different parts of the realignment story, but one thing remained constant. The Blackhawks and Red Wings would no longer be in the same conference, let alone division. As constructed, the Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets would move to the Eastern Conference, while the Winnipeg Jets would head West.
Here's a look at the proposed conferences and divisions :
Midwest Division: Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
Pacific Division: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.
Atlantic Division: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
Central Division: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
While it can hardly be argued that the Chicago/Detroit rivalry has lost some it's mojo in recent years, the combination of history, familiarity and proximity have made the Chicago / Detroit rivalry one for the ages. Now, the Blackhawks are in danger of being the lone Original Six team left in the Western Conference, which seems doomed to twist in the wind with almost every other major hockey market (save for the Western Canadian teams) in the Eastern Conference. The West will be an afterthought to NBC, NBC Sports Network, and other national media outlets. The Blackhawks are the only team that's consistently interesting on a national level. Why would NBC chose a Hawks / Coyotes game when they can choose Red Wings / Rangers? They won't.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining, however. With the new divisions, the Hawks will be reunited with Minnesota, who was their biggest rival of the 80s and 90s. While the Wild lack the hate-ability of the Dino Ciccarelli North Stars, familiarity breeds contempt, and that rivalry should gain some steam in the coming seasons, especially with the Wild's new found commitment to spending and building a winner. The plan as currently constructed also features a home and away game with every team in the league. At least Hawk fans will get a look at Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York and Detroit every season, as opposed to the current plan.
There will also be a revamped playoff format, including a Wild Card element.
Under the proposed system, the top three teams in each of the four divisions would qualify for the postseason. The final four spots would go to the two teams in each conference with the next-best records. So, in theory, five teams from one division and just three from the other division in each respective conference could make the postseason.
That playoff format adjustment could really help develop rivalries. The true way to build hatred is through intense playoff series. See Colorado/Detroit or Chicago/Vancouver.
The realignment plan still must be approved by the Players' Association and NHL Board of Governors, but all signs point to this plan going through, save for a minor tweak here or there.