Wait, double the non-conference games and half the games against rivals?

Sort of like if MLB decided to have the Dodgers play most of its games against the American League?

NHL approves radical four-conference alignment plan - ESPN

NHL officials approved a radical realignment plan Monday that will give the league four conferences instead of six divisions and guarantee home-and-home series among all teams. [...] The board opted to go with the more dramatic switch, creating four geographic conferences -- two with eight teams and two with seven. The new format will increase overall travel in the regular season, especially for Eastern Conference teams who will now have more trips West. But it cuts down on travel for some Western Conference teams, which was a critical issue for teams like Detroit, Dallas, Columbus and Nashville.[...]

The new look has two conferences with seven teams all based in the Eastern time zone: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Washington and Carolina in one and Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay in the other. [...]The third conference consists of eight teams in the Eastern and Central time zones: Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg. The fourth conference has eight teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado. The conferences have not been named.

[...]Teams will play home-and-home series against all nonconference teams and five or six games in their conference. The top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, with the first two rounds consisting of solely intraconference matchups. [...] The four-conference format will also allow for more flexibility should the team need to move the Coyotes franchise that is currently owned by the NHL.

Some quick thoughts:

  • The Kings will play its conference rivals "5 or 6" times. 7 times 5 is 35. The other 22 teams are each played twice. That's 44 games. 35 plus 44 is 79. So either we're moving off the 82 game format, or the Kings will play three of its conference rivals 6 times, and four of them 5 times.
  • However, here's something I don't get. In the East, where there are only 7 teams per conference, there are at most 6 games against 6 conference opponents (36 games) and -- oh, I get it. There are 23 non-conference teams (22 if you're in the West), so that's 46 games. 46 plus 36 equals 82. Never mind.
  • The Kings will only play the Wings and Blackhawks twice each per season, instead of four times. The same is true of (but less important regarding) the Blue Jackets, Predators, Wild and Blues.
  • The Kings will play the Stars twice instead of six times.
  • Something that can never happen in the new format: playing Detroit or Chicago in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Because the first two rounds stay within the conference (which is really more like a division, after all).
  • Similarly, the Sharks and Canucks will never play Chicago or Detroit in the first two rounds. That kind of sucks for their rivalries. The Avalanche and Wings also have bad blood that won't get sorted out until some future third round.
  • Teams who are going from weak divisions to tougher competition: Canucks and Capitals.
  • I'm not really sure what to make of the unbalanced playoff seed issue (eight of sixteen teams make the playoffs in the west; eight of fourteen make the playoffs in the east).
  • One thing that means: conferences with eight teams have more access to lottery picks, so they should get marginally better prospects. Small consolation.
  • I wonder what effect the new format will have on how many points it will take to make the playoffs. Currently (thanks to the Bettman point), the threshold (in the west) is about 96-97 points. But one of the reasons for this is that only the first place team in each division is guaranteed a spot. It's possible for entire divisions to make the playoffs while others only have one team making it.
  • But now, with the first two rounds staying entirely within the division (I mean, conference), it means that there are four guaranteed playoff spots in your division (I mean, conference).
  • For the last several years, the 3rd through 12th seeds have been bunched together for most of the season. Ten teams fighting for six spots. Starting next year, the competition will be tighter -- eight teams fighting for four spots -- and fiercer -- since those eight teams will spend more time playing each other.
  • However: whereas currently if you have a couple of terrible teams in your conference, it doesn't affect the overall playoff picture much (since things reduce to 12 teams fighting for 8 spots, with two or three teams being doomed after the first few weeks)...starting next year, if you have a couple of crappy teams in your division (conference), and you happen to be in the east, you're looking at essentially five teams fighting for four spots. I have to say that sounds like a pretty likely scenario and one that runs counter to Bettman's "parity logjam" model.
  • One thing I really like: with four conferences instead of two, it will now be possible for the Bruins and Flyers to meet in the finals, or the Wings and the Kings, or the Canucks and the Hawks (etc.).
  • There will be a lot fewer "four point games." Currently, the Kings (for instance) play four teams 6 times and ten teams 4 times. That's 64 games against teams the Kings are in competition with for playoff spots. And 18 against the 15 teams in the east. Starting next year though: the Kings will have 44 games against non-conference teams, and only 38 against their conference rivals.
  • That means that whether a team makes the playoffs or not will depend mostly on how it does against teams outside the conference.
  • More than double the non-conference games, and almost half the number of games against your direct competition.
  • That's odd, isn't it?
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