December 05, 2011
The NHL's Board of Governors approved a new four-conference format for the league beginning in 2012-13, with two conferences of seven teams and two conferences of eight teams.
Every team in the NHL will play home-and-home; the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin inside each conference, with the top four teams squaring off in divisional playoffs.
The four conference champions will advance to face each other for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. Commission Gary Bettman said that the final playoff format will be decided by the general managers in the spring.
In the seven-team conferences, teams would play six times -- three home, three away. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season: An eight-team Conference member that plays an opponent six times in one season would play it five times the following season.
Bettman said he'll go to the NHLPA for final approval.
As we've written, there are pros and cons to this alignment. It's a dream come true for the current Western Conference teams, as the Eastern teams are mandated to play in their cities at least once per season; and the early rounds of their playoffs are more geographically friendly — no more California-to-Michigan first-rounders.
Obviously, for teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, the limited trips to Western Canada and the West Coast are also a boon; and the Red Wings' rivals from the old Central Division have to be thrilled they're still around to boost the gate.
[ Related: 'Miss Congeniality' charged in Stanley Cup riot ]
Divisional playoffs are at the same time awesome and problematic. The notion that we can have the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins battle every year in the quarters or the semifinals is awesome. Ditto the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames or the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers and so on. The playoffs fuel hatred. Hatred sells. The first two rounds are going to be dramatic, blood-soaked affairs every postseason.
But as we wrote Monday morning: The divisional playoff setup can also lead to redundant, predictable matchups; and to inequity, as teams with higher point totals are squeezed out of the postseason because they play in tougher divisions. (Under this format, the Los Angeles Kings would have missed the playoffs last season despite having more points than the Blackhawks and the Stars.)
The glorious mathematical chaos of the last weekends of the season will give way to something more straightforward. The days of the No. 8 seed rising up to take out the President's Trophy winner in the first round are done.
We'll have much more on this later.
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