How the New NHL Alignment Affects the Ottawa Senators

 

I have to admit, the best part about the NHL’s new alignment plan isn’t news that rivalries will be cranked up or that teams in the central region will now benefit from having more games scheduled within their timezone. No, the best part about any alignment talks are the inordinate number of unflattering Gary Bettman photos that will adorn many of the newspaper articles discussing the NHL’s realignment in today’s North American newspapers. The picture that I pulled for this post was from the Ottawa Sun but there are more – here, here and here.

To counter this predictable trend, the official NHL press release should have featured a photo of Bettman with an air of gravitas. Alas, there was no such photo. Instead, it only gave the details of the league’s new conference structure.

The National Hockey League Board of Governors tonight approved a four-Conference alignment format and authorized Commissioner Gary Bettman to implement this proposal, pending input from the National Hockey League Players’ Association. The format would create two eight-team Conferences and two seven-team conferences.

Under the format, every team would play every other team outside its conference twice — once home, once away.

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.

The top four teams in each Conference qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first-place team would play the fourth-place team; the second-place team would play the third-place team. The four respective Conference champions would meet in the third round of the Playoffs, with the survivors playing for the Stanley Cup.

The top four teams in each new conference will qualify for the playoffs, with the first-place team facing the fourth-place team and second playing third. The four respective conference champions would meet in the third round, with the winners playing for the Stanley Cup.

Here is the new look of the league:

Conference A

Conference B

Conference C

Conference D

Anaheim Ducks

Chicago Blackhawks

Boston Bruins

Carolina Hurricanes

Calgary Flames

Columbus Blue Jackets

Buffalo Sabres

New Jersey Devils

Colorado Avalance

Dallas Stars

Florida Panthers

New York Islanders

Edmonton Oilers

Detroit Red Wings

Montreal Canadiens

New York Rangers

Los Angeles Kings

Minnesota Wild

Ottawa Senators

Philadelphia Flyers

Phoenix Coyotes

Nashville Predators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Pittsburgh Penguins

San Jose Sharks

St. Louis Blues

Toronto Maple Leafs

Washington Capitals

Vancouver Canucks

Winnipeg Jets

For those of you who need to visualize things, here’s a map courtesy of tomfulery.com:

So how does this new schedule affect the Ottawa Senators?

First and foremost, barring the Detroit Red Wings switching Conferences or the Phoenix Coyotes suddenly becoming the Quebec Nordiques, Ottawa’s seven team Conference means that there is less competition for the Senators to make the playoffs than an eight-team Conference. Of course, the trade off here is that Ottawa is competing for one of four playoff spots instead of the current system’s eight. Unless there’s some mechanism like the ‘crossover steal’ that David Alter mentions in his Fan 590 blog, some 5th place team in an eight-team conference could have a better record than a 4th place team in another and be left out of the playoff dance. (Note: the ‘crossover steal’ would allow some 5th place team in an eight-team conference that has a better recod than a 4th place team in another to meet in a one-off game before the playoffs where the fifth place team would essentially have a shot of ‘stealing’ the playoff spot, rather than just automatically giving it to them.)

Similarly, because of this new alignment that ensures that the first two playoff rounds are divisional, Ottawa no longer has to worry about facing a Sidney Crosby, an Alex Ovechkin or a Claude Giroux in the first round of the playoffs. (Although considering Washington’s record in the postseason, you could raise the argument that this may be a bad thing.) Instead, the Senators will have a greater opportunity to extend their playoff rivalries against teams like the Maple Leafs or the Sabres while hopefully creating long overdue ones with the Bruins and Canadiens… or Panthers?

Yes, the beloved Florida Panthers. I believe the closest thing that Ottawa has had to a rivalry with Florida is that they infamously took lesser trade packages for the likes of Gary Roberts and Roberto Luongo. Many people will want to conveniently lump Tampa Bay in with Florida and say that there is no natural rivalry there either but as expansion brethren that entered the NHL at the same time, at least there’s some substance there. A few, most notably Ron MacLean, have also championed the number of snowbirds who will travel down south to take in games in Miami and Tampa too. So there’s that.

What do you readers think of the new alignment?

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