Return to the Patrick Division?

When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg this past summer, it was obvious that some sort of a conference and/or divisional realignment was necessary. However, it can be assumed that most were not expecting such radical changes like the ones passed by the NHL Board of Governors on Monday.

Set to go into effect next season, the NHL will switch to a four conference arrangement. Out of those four conferences, half with be made of up eight teams while the other half will be made up of only seven teams.

Currently still nameless, the new conferences are as follows:

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 Avalanche Dallas Stars Florida Panthers New York Islanders
Edmonton Oilers Detroit Redwings Montreal Canadiens New York Rangers
Los Angeles Kings Minnesotta 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

Along with new conference changes comes new changes to the way the regular season schedule is made, as well as how the playoffs work. Dan Rosen from NHL.com explains:

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.

While some of these changes might seem drastic, the reasoning behind them are understandable. Once again, Dan Rosen from NHL.com explains:

The four conferences are designed to alleviate geographic concerns among several current Western Conference teams that had been unhappy about their extensive travel through one, two, and sometimes even three time zones. Some of those teams argued that the late start of road games in the Pacific time zone were affecting fan interest, especially among younger fans.

The new alignment also enables the NHL to create a balanced schedule in which all teams will play each other at least twice every season, once at home and once on the road, giving fans a chance to see every team and superstar in the League. The remaining games will be played within the conferences.

So how does this apply to the Caps?

With the new realignment, the Caps are once again grouped with their old Patrick Division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes being the only exception. While this renews and strengthens the rivalries, it also means that the Caps will have a much more challenging road to the playoffs. Though, it doesn’t stop there.

Above is a map showing the new NHL conferences. (Map made by Cassie McClellan from RawCharge.com)

Assuming the Caps do make it to the playoffs, it is guaranteed that they will play either the Hurricanes, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, or Penguins within the first two rounds of the postseason. The days of easily winning the division and getting at least the third seed in the postseason are officially over after this year.

While at first these new challenges seem terrible, it may prove to be helpful. It’s no secret that the Caps have had an easy time in the regular season in recent seasons. Winning their division the past four years in a row, the Caps have not seen much of a challenge from teams in their division. As a result, the Caps aren’t ready once they’ve made it to the postseason. Will a harder division bring about better playoff success?

These new changes are fairly drastic and might take awhile to really set in. Tell us what you think by leaving a comment or voting below:

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Posted on December 6, 2011, in Caps News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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