NHL's new Divisions

The new-look NHL

So it has come to this… the NHL Realignment plans have been released.  Judging by all the online social networks, the response is overwhelmingly negative.  Some food for thought though, would you rather take radical changes to the playoff format, or piss and moan over a simple “Winnipeg for Detroit” swap?  I am not arguing one over another really either, just merely thinking out loud since I cannot sleep.

-To me, Florida and Tampa remind me of that person you sorta know at a party of strangers.  There is some acquaintance, but when you look around and that is your only familiar face, you’ll end up as their best friend all night.  Using my knowledge of the league, the natural rivalry that should exist between Florida and Tampa Bay does not seem to exist.  It’s hard to base one on distance when both teams have not been good at the same time (or in Florida’s case, ever) and neither group of fans are willing to travel across the state to support their team.  Congrats Sunshine State!  You two are now like that kid I sat next to in European history class.

-After all this talk about Detroit moving and abandoning Chicago in the West, who would have EVER thought that the Rangers would wind up being the Original 6 team left out.  Days of their battles with the Habs and Bruins will now be a thing of the past.  On the up side, close proximity to nearly everyone else in their division/conference should pick up the slack.  New York will still have home games with the Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Penguins, and Captials.  That’ll keep MSG rocking if the Rangers can carry their momentum forward a bit.

-Might we see trades on the rise???  With a small conference (or are we calling these divisions still) might we see more of a risk on player movement.  Even with meeting everyone a minimum of four times a year, there was always apprehension on trading a player with potential within the conference.  It’s easy to move someone across the continent and forget about them, eh Calgary? With that number cut in half, could we see more GM’s willing to pull triggers on deals without having it come back to bite them in the rear six times a year?  Could we even see a ripple of this come Trade Deadline 2012?  Will someone swing a trade knowing they might not see a familiar face come the end of the season or into the playoffs?

-Certain tickets may be harder to come by next year at First Niagara Center.  With only one home date to see stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, demand for certain games will be on the rise.  This is great news for the secondary market including my day job at VIP Seats.  When it comes down to it, if you know someone who is a fan of a certain marquee player, you have to act fast.  There will only be one chance to see them and if you miss out, you might take a gamble with prices on the secondary market.  This is probably bad news for the Sabres ticket office as multiple home dates with Washington, Philly, New York etc. are replaced with one game and the addition as such box office poison as Phoenix, Dallas and St. Louis.

-Ok… I couldn’t go any longer without attacking the elephant in the room of the realignment itself.  As my friend Greg told me on Twitter, you might as well start hating the Wild now.  With the decision for a league-wide home and home series, the Buffalo Sabres will play teams out West, as much as they play hated teams like the Philadelphia Flyers.  Now eventually, everyone will just come to accept that, as any current bad blood will dissipate over the first few years of the new schedule.  What I don’t like the most about the proposed schedule, is the playoff rounds.  If you haven’t heard, Of the seven teams in the Sabres division, four will make the divisional playoffs.  The only chance to break the mind-numingly familiarity of seeing the same six opponents will be ALLLLLLLL the way in the league semi-finals, or “Final Four” if you want to make it sound super dramatic.  Any interesting playoff matchup will be washed out by seeing the Senators or worse yet, the Panthers for the 23rd time in a season.

Since I am such a negative realisticpositive guy, I looked for SOME silver lining about the new playoff format, and here it goes.  Online I have heard the argument that there are fewer teams to worry about.  Yes.  100% Yes.  Instead of a whole slate of NHL games, mostly involving all Eastern or Western teams, where you have to root for whomever the Sabres are not trying to chase or hold off, there is half the teams to be concerned with.  Just like in the NFL, you can easily root for whatever team is playing a division rival.  The only other thing I can draw from a new playoff format is this: the Buffalo Sabres will always have a realistic shot at making it far.  Unless they get whitewashed in the regular season by Boston or someone else, won’t you go into the playoffs thinking we can beat whomever is in front of us?  Wouldn’t a 3-3 split with Toronto make you feel good about the opening round?  Wouldn’t some close games with Montreal give you some hope and good things to draw upon come April?

There will no doubt be tons of opinions by any monkey with a keyboard over the next few days and even months.  I am no different nor do I want to try to come off as such.  Change is always uncomfortable.  I am excited that the NHL is not happy with status-quo and are willing to mix it up if/when something changes.  If the Sabres finally get to lift the Stanley Cup in 2013, will I be worried that a new format tainted the victory? Of course not, because no matter what team you cheer for, you still have to be better than 29 others and that’s what really matters.

Alex Szczesny

I eat, sleep and breathe Sabres hockey. I have been into the sport literally my whole life. I started going to games when I was 9 months old and have been hooked ever since. Growing up, I played against guys like Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kaleta, Tim Kennedy and now I have to pay money to watch them in person... Funny how things change.

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