After years of speculation and rumor, we have realignment. The NHLPA approved the NHL's plan to shuffle the deck for next season, with some fairly drastic changes on the way.
The league moves to a four division format. Here's the breakdown:
|Dallas Stars||Calgary Flames|
|Winnipeg Jets||Edmonton Oilers|
|Minnesota Wild||Vancouver Canucks|
|Chicago Blackhawks||San Jose Sharks|
|Nashville Predators||Anaheim Ducks|
|St.Louis Blues||Los Angeles Kings|
|Colorado Avalanche||Phoenix Coyotes|
The new alignment also comes with a new playoff format. The top three teams in each division make the playoffs, with the top two non-division winners in each conference making the playoffs as wildcards.
For Columbus, there are so many positives.
First of all, the travel. By moving to the Eastern Conference, the Jackets will play more games in the Eastern time zone, and will make fewer trips out West. This serves as a benefit to both the players and the fans back home who don't want to wait until 10 or 11 o'clock for the game to start. For a team that's losing money, any bit of savings on travel is a positive.
The best way to fill Nationwide Arena is for the team to be successful. In addition to that success, having stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Alexander Ovechkin, the Staals, and Rick Nash making frequent visits to Columbus will put butts in the seats.
The potential for new rivalries is exciting. Pittsburgh is a geographical rival right off the bat. Getting to exact revenge on Nash will make games against the Rangers that much more intense. Fellow loveable losers the Islanders will be fun to compete against, to see which team can avoid the division basement in the early years. Who knows, one of the other teams may just turn out to be a rival after the games start to be played. I have nothing to back this up whatsoever, but I have a feeling that Columbus and Carolina are going to develop something nasty.
There are those out there who think Columbus is heading into a meat grinder. While that may be true, tell me a division in the new format that isn't going to be difficult. On the same token, look at the Central division for the pat few years. It hasn't exactly been a cake walk for the Jackets either.
There is a wrinkle though- the agreement by the NHLPA is contingent on reevaluating the deal after the 2014/2015 season. With the talk of expansion and relocation of the Coyotes, the Jackets' stay in the Eastern Conference may be short-lived. The cities that are given the most press in terms of expansion or relocation are Markham, Ontario and Quebec City, both in the East. If Phoenix moves to one of those cities, balance would be required and Columbus would be the prime candidate to move back to the West. If Seattle, another city rumored to be in the mix for an NHL team, gets the Coyotes or an expansion team, Columbus is safe in the East.
At this point though, let's enjoy it. It's a very good thing for the Jackets, and I can't wait to see what kind of impact realignment has on rivalries and attendance.