The NHL is finally implementing a realignment strategy this season that it has been pushing for since 2011. Now that the lockout is over and a full slate of games is on tap this year, fans will see the new alignment in action for the first time in 2013. What are some of the benefits to the NHL and to the fans?
1) Detroit Is Happy
Detroit has been promised a move out of the Western Conference since 1997. The Red Wings wanted to move east because it makes no sense for a team close to the eastern time zone to have to play as far west as Vancouver. This season, they will play against teams such as Columbus, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. When one of the premiere teams in the league is happy, the rest of the league is happy.
2) New Rivalries Can Be Created
It is hoped that increased competition between teams such as Columbus and Pittsburgh can lead to new rivalries occurring. In addition, teams such as Winnipeg will be able to renew their rivalries with teams such as Edmonton and Calgary. This will boost ticket sales in all three markets. For a team such as Winnipeg, they need all the help they can get playing in such a small market.
3) Divisional Rivalries Matter In The Postseason
The first two rounds of the playoffs will feature games between divisional rivals. This means that Boston and Buffalo will see each other more often in the postseason as well Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Tampa Bay and Florida are two other teams that could be meeting in the postseason if they both make it in the same year. This adds meaning to games in the regular season and could make playoff series even more intense than they already are.
4) Expansion Can Take Place
Currently, there are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference. This imbalance is assumed to be the result of expansion that is anticipated to take place in the near future. Cities such as Seattle, Washington; Hamilton, Ontario and Quebec City, Quebec are all in the running for expansion franchises. If the league does expand to 32 teams, it allows the league to go back to places where it is already popular. This creates a situation where the league can expand revenues.
5) Fans In Ohio Don’t Have To Stay Up Until 10p.m
Fans of teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t have to stay up way past their bedtime to watch their favorite team play. This is important because the Blue Jackets are a team that has struggled to catch on. Now that they are one of the league’s rising teams, it is important that fans are able to watch them on TV. With more games starting earlier in the evening, it is possible for kids to watch the games as well as adults who may have to be at work early in the morning.
Realignment brings many possibilities to the NHL. It allows the league to expand, creates new rivalries and brings teams into a better geographical structure. No longer will Detroit have to go play in Vancouver while Buffalo doesn’t have to travel any farther than Tampa Bay for a game. As the fans get used to it, they will enjoy being able to watch their teams play at a normal time against teams that are natural geographic rivals. If anything, this could push the popularity of the NHL to the next level.