Point/Counterpoint: Realignment

Point/Counterpoint is a new weekly series which argues both sides of a topic relevant to the Philadelphia Flyers. Today, Nick D and Bob H will tackle the new “radical” realignment plan the NHL will implement next season.

Point – Nick D: The National Hockey League will realign for the 2012-2013 season. There will no longer be two conferences with six divisions in each conference, and five teams in each division. Now there will be four “conferences” made up of either seven or eight clubs each. All teams in the league will see each other at least twice, with intra-conference teams meeting six times apiece, much like it is now within the divisions.

Quite honestly, it’s a great idea and here’s why. The fans get to see every team in the NHL in their building once every year. The Eastern
biased travel schedule will be much more balanced, and all of the conferences will be more competitive in and of themselves as to who makes the playoffs. It should be good for everyone involved, but especially for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Counterpoint – Bob H: This is all well and good. The big problem is that the message from the NHL is that the plan is a “radical” realignment when it is clearly not. How “radical” is it that the league reverts back to the format which dominated from 1974 until 1998, when the ill-advised last batch of expansions started with the inclusion of Nashville?

Also, how “radical” is it when all but the two Florida franchises are grouped along strict geographical lines, which the NHL sought to do from 1981 right up until today?

The Board of Governors really pussed out when presented with an opportunity to really shake things up. But in the end, all it did was shoe-horn a plan which was rumored as far back as 2005 when the league was rumored to be considering contraction and a return to the 4-division format.

I agree with Nick in that it’s a good thing the new scheduling matrix will allow for a greater number of inter-conference games.  It’s high time Pittsburgh-Detroit, Chicago-Washington, Philadelphia-Detroit, Montreal-Vancouver, et al are guaranteed a home and road game each year, but how long will it be before the players start complaining about the travel again? My guess is right around the 3-year mark, just like they did during the lockout year, and again in 2008, when the scheduling was altered.

Point – This realignment plan benefits the Flyers, and their fans, so much it’s not even fair. They get keep their rivalries with all of their Atlantic Division opponents, and only add the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals to their list of clubs who they will face six times a year, so travel still remains relatively light from an in-conference perspective.

Washington D.C. is only a 2 1/2-hour drive away from Philadelphia, while North Carolina is less than two hours by plane. The travel increase for teams like the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning is obscene by comparison as they have been lumped in with the Northeast Division teams.

Counterpoint – My God, how ridiculous is that? How can the new realignment plan be beneficial as a whole, but MORE beneficial to one team? Easy…because Ed Snider has stuck around so long (he’s in fact the longest-serving member of the BOG) that he’s become part of the cabal of the Establishment.

A 78-year-old man can no longer feel like he’s the rebel of the group when he gets to swing his nuts so low and in the face of other clubs. It’s kinda like when George Steinbrenner exerted his influence over MLB’s owners to get a team in Tampa Bay so his relatives could see the Yankees more than just in Spring Training.

You’re right — it’s NOT fair. A real 4-division (or “conference”) alignment with all the teams in the Mid-Atlantic and South should be: Devils, Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers. Period. That spreads out a bit of the travel burden so even the Eastern teams have to go 1,000 miles or more within their own conference — just like the ones which contain the more Western-lying cities.

Point – The fans getting to see every team in their building is great for the game.  There won’t be anymore hoping that the Western Conference based teams would come to the Wells Fargo Center, they’ll definitely all be there at least once. Getting to see Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is definitely on a lot of hockey fans’ to-do lists, and now they’ll get the opportunity every year.

The new alignment plan will create a little more familiarity (read hate) with the other teams as well since they have to face each other twice.

Look at the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year when the two clubs squared off for three fights in four seconds and racked up 146 penalty minutes over the course of the game. It just goes to show you that teams can develop a steaming pile of hatred awful quickly for each other in this league and with the amount of turnover there is, players who don’t like each other will inevitably face off twice. It almost certainly increases competitiveness and the importance of every game.

Counterpoint – The novelty of playing all of the remaining 29 teams will wear off, believe me. For every game against Ottawa that’s sacrificed, there’s one more against Columbus each year that Flyers fans and other fans of good old traditional hockey will have to hate on out of principle. I mean, like I mentioned earlier, the new scheduling allows for multiple inter-conference games against the good clubs in the Eastern and Western portions of the continent, but for every Red Wings-Capitals pairing, there’s an equal an opposite possibility of Panthers-Blue Jackets twice a year as well.

And if nobody in Columbus or Sunrise is showing up anyway, what’s the point of doing this exactly? It’s not like in baseball, where an odd interleague pairing of the Blue Jays and Padres is going to bring in some noticeable extra revenue once in a Blue Moon. Dead space is dead space, and in locales where the game is struggling, one or two games a year against featured competition won’t do much to boost the sport’s profile win or lose.

So maybe the “hate” doesn’t happen, either. For every Stars-Bruins brawlfest that unleashes our inner Jack Edwardses, what about those neutral-zone trap chess matches between oh, say…Tampa Bay and St. Louis (not Martin)? No sense in trying to promote the inherent clash between two clubs who want to win every game 2-1.

Point – Speaking of competition, the competition to get into the playoffs in all the conferences will be tougher, but Conference D will be especially tough, there is no doubt about it. Getting out of the first round could be very difficult on the Flyers, but it will be difficult across the board in their conference. The Flyers would have to face the Penguins or Capitals or Rangers more than likely, but at the same time, those teams would have to face the Flyers and well, the Flyers are sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings as of this writing and have scored more goals than any team in the entire NHL.

To pit the Flyers against the high-octane offense of the Washington Capitals would make for a great first round matchup, no? The Flyers
and Penguins are two teams that flat out despise each other. Wouldn’t you love to see the Flyers knocking the Penguins out in the first round every year? What about the Rangers? Tell me what wouldn’t be appealing about seeing a disgusted John Tortorella after Danny Briere scores the game winner in a double overtime ame, putting his team through to the next round in the process?

Counterpoint – So yeah, do everything to try and whip up the competitiveness and dredge up the hate, but ensure that more than one winning team will be locked out of the playoff picture. Grrreat! That’s exactly what’s been happening with the six-division format in the last couple years — particularly in the uber-competitive Western Conference.

Also, good idea to float out the idea of four conferences and not even give them names. It’s the idiocy that might launch a thousand Twitter hashtags and memes. A, B, C and D. Anybody remember the code to the airlock of Planet Druidia from “Spaceballs?” Yeah…like that. Idiots and their luggage.

Why yes, I’d love to see the Flyers knock out the Penguins in the first round. But I also would hate to see the Flyers lose the 81st game of the year in overtime/shootout to knock them out of a playoff spot despite finishing42-32-8. You know what’s also screwed up? With the way the playoff series open up and go beyond inter-conference play, I really don’t want to see the Flyers get by the Penguins and Capitals only to be blown out by the Sharks in a 2-3-2 format because of the travel. That’s a tremendous waste, whether it’s the Flyers having to go all the way to the West Coast or the Canucks having to come all the way back East.

But seriously, while the prospect of playing the Rangers/Penguins/Capitals is appealing to the younger generation as if it is brand spanking new, it’s simply a retread of the way it was in the 1980s and early ’90s before several new realignments took place — once more a pin prick into the balloon of “radicalism.” I recall very well the old Patrick/Smythe/Norris/Adams Divisions where you played your rivals 7/8 times a year and everyone else 3 times and then beat on each other in a best-of-5 (later all best-of-7) playoff series through the Stanley Cup Finals.

It was glorious, but it also created severe problems. For instance, in 1987-88, the Rangers (82 pts) and Penguins (81 pts) missed out on the playoffs for finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Patrick. Meanwhile, in the Norris Division, Toronto went 21-49-10 and made the playoffs because it was fourth in a five-team Norris. Two years before that, a 25-win Leafs team made the postseason and then upset the first-place Blackhawks.

And while the latter scenario isn’t likely to happen anymore, the former is probably going to occcur every single season. Which means more inexplicable coach/GM firings for having winning records but no playoff appearances to show for it.

Point – Flyers fans will get to see the development of players like John Tavares and Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils, and Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes. Not to mention the already established super stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Marian Gaborik, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal and the list goes on. The fact is, this new alignment benefits the entire league, the Philadelphia Flyers, and perhaps more importantly in this sports-crazed town: the fans.

Counterpoint – Nick, you ignorant slut.