The National Hockey League’s Board of Governors approved a four conference realignment of the league’s 30 teams Monday.
The new NHL conferences will look as follows:
For the Wild, the new plan creates better travel (less trips to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver), less 8:00 and 9:00 start times and a chance to develop a rivalry with its new division-mates (most notably the Blackhawks, Blues and Jets).
Improved travel conditions are less for the fans and more for the team. The Wild has three games each in Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver and two games each in Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose. With the conference realignment, the Wild makes just one trip to each of those cities.
This season the Wild have 17 games scheduled to start at 8:00 or later. That is 20.7 percent of the Wild’s games this season that a majority of its fan base will not be able to see the end of the game. It is hard to imagine the most popular sport in the “State of Hockey” getting a boost in fan interest, but that will happen as fans (especially the younger ones) can see the entire Wild games.
Who are the Wild’s current rivals? It is hard to determine the answer to that. But, when you think back to the days when the North Stars called Minnesota home, it had rivalries with the Blues, Blackhawks and Red Wings. With the Wild in the same division as those teams along with the Stars and Blue Jackets, the rivalries can be renewed or born.
The new conferences have yet to be named. The new conferences resemble the divisions of the 80’s, so how about using the old names; Smythe for Conference A, Norris for Conference B, Adams for Conference C and Patrick for Conference D?
Another positive is that every team will host every other team in the league at least once every year.
The conference realignment still needs to go through the National Hockey League Players’ Association, but the intention is to begin the realignment and schedule for the 2012-13 season.
Another thing to think about is the Coyotes’ situation. It is unclear whether or not they stay in Phoenix. If they move east, the NHL can simply move them to one of the seven team divisions.