The NHL's Board of Governor's approved a radical conference realignment which will feature four-conferences, replacing the two conference format which is currently in place. Under the new realignment plan, which was approved by a vote of 26-4, the first two playoff rounds will be played in each conference. The new plan still has to be voted on by the NHLPA, but that seems to be a formality
at this point.
Under this format, there will be 16 playoff teams, four coming from each respective conference. With regards to seeding, the number one team will face the number four team and the number two team will face the number four team. This means that an all-West or all-East final is quite possible.The semifinals have not been determined, although reseeding of the final four teams has been discussed in-depth.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and their current South East division foe, the Florida Panthers, got theshort end of the stick on this deal. The Lightning and the Panthers will now be in Conference C, basically joining what is now the NHL's Northeast division. The Lightning will now be in a conference with teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators.
If approved by the NHLPA, Tampa Bay will play 36 games against conference rivals next season, and a home-and-home series with every other team in the league.
The subject of "geographical sense" has been talked to thedeath but still, it makes no sense for these teams to be in the Northeast Division and it puts them at suchan unfair disadvantage, especially when it comes to traveling.
For all of those who are familiar with the NHL and the division playoffs in the past, are also aware there are pros and cons in this format. A more eminent threat for the Lightning though, concerns the regular season.
With the changes, the majority of the Lightning's regular season games will be in the Northeast and Tampa Bay will have to play 13 games across the border this season. This season, the Lightning only play a total of nine games in Canada.
It's hard to make all teams happy in a 30 team league, but the new realignment plan guarantees the Lightning will have a more difficult road schedule next season, also having to visit each team in the west next season.
At least the St. Pete Times Forum will have a good chance of selling out the 18 divisional games that the Lightning will play at home with all of the North easterners and Canadians that have moved to the area.
Below is a map of the NHL realignment changes. Thank you to Cassie McCllelan who let us use the map she designed!
Proposed NHL Realignment