Before we get to how realignment will affect the Rangers,
here’s the basic rundown of the new format:
Last night the NHL’s Board of Governors approved a new
four-conference realignment plan, motivated by the reintroduction of Winnipeg
to the league. The plan is designed to
limit travel, so the league will be primarily structured based on
geography. The Eastern and Western
Conferences will be irrelevant following this season. Instead, there will be four separate
conferences that are unnamed at this point.
The groupings are:
Conference #1: NY Rangers, NJ Devils, NY Islanders,
Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina
Conference #2: Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens,
Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida
Conference #3: Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton
Oilers, L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix
Conference #4: Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago
Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas
Stars, Minnesota Wild
In the seven-team conferences, each team will face each
other six times and will face every other team in the league twice each, once
at home and once away. In the eight-team
conferences each team will face each other five or six times a year on a
rotational basis. These teams will also
play every other team once home and once away.
Each conference will send its top four teams to the
playoffs. The first two rounds of the
playoffs will be held within each conference.
The biggest remaining mystery is how the playoffs will be handled after
the first two rounds, but that
will be decided at a later date.
So what does this all mean for New York?
Less travel. The
Rangers have had one of the league’s cushiest travel situations for a long time
and that’s not going to change under the new plan. Like every team, the Blueshirts will have to
visit each city on the other side of the country once a year, but they are also
guaranteed 36 dates close to home each season.
They will also be much closer to home for the first two rounds of the
playoffs, should they make it.
Old rivalries remain, new ones could develop. New York’s hotly contested matches with the
Islanders, Flyers, Devils and Penguins will all remain intact and it will be
interesting to see how long it takes for something to brew between the
Blueshirts and the Capitals and Hurricanes.
New York doesn’t have much history with Carolina, but Washington has eliminated
the Rangers from the postseason in two of the last three seasons.
Tough playoff draw. Getting
out of the first two rounds of the playoffs is going to be extremely
difficult. You have to figure that perennial
powerhouses Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are going to finish in the
top-four for the foreseeable future, which leaves the Rangers, Islanders,
Devils and Hurricanes to battle for the final spot. New York is certainly a step ahead of those
three teams, which are each in
the league’s bottom-seven right now, but even if the Rangers do make the postseason
they’re likely to have to contend with two of the Penguins, Capitals and Flyers
in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Washington and Philadelphia haven’t been the most consistent teams in
the postseason, but they are as skilled as it gets in the NHL.
All Staal all the time.
Sick of hearing about how there are THREE Staal brothers in the
NHL? Then this realignment plan isn’t
for you. The Rangers will have 12 Staal
vs. Staal matches a year at least and possibly more depending on the
playoffs. So get ready to see the same shots
of the Staal boys skating on a pond in Thunder Bay over and over again.
Crosby and Ovie. New
York is used to seeing Crosby on a regular basis, but now the two top players
in the world will be in the same conference.
OK, based on how Ovechkin has played that might not be a factual
statement anymore, but if the Russian finds his game then the Crosby vs.
Ovechkin rivalry could be very fun to watch.
The good news for the Rangers is that realignment won’t go into effect
until next year, because it would be very difficult for New York to contend
with these guys so often without Marc Staal.
New coaches. Both
Carolina and Washington replaced their coaches last week and neither Kirk
Muller nor Dale Hunter will even get a full season in the Southeast Division
before their routine is chopped up. Both
men have solid reputations, but there’s not exactly a sense of stability in
either city. It wouldn’t be surprising
if the Islanders can Jack Capuano at some point this season or next summer, so
we could see three coaches with very little experience in this conference next
There is absolutely no debate that the Rangers have the best goaltending
situation of any team in their conference.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the only other guy that could be considered among
the NHL’s elite. Cam Ward has been very
good in the past, but he’s been terrible this season. The Devils, Islanders, Capitals and Flyers
all have very shaky situations in net. Considering
that Conference #2 boasts Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller and Carey Price, Conference
#3 possesses Jonathan Quick, Roberto Luongo/Corey Schneider and Miikka
Kiprusoff, and Conference #4 has Pekka Rinne, Niklas Backstrom and Jimmy Howard,
the Rangers lucked out in this department.
UPDATE: ESPN's Pierre LeBrun believes that the Rangers were one of four teams to vote against the four-conference realignment plan.
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