There is a lot of complaining about the NHL's total realignment going on and a it feels to me like kvetching for kvetching's sake.
There is plenty of complaining about it being unfair that some teams only have seven-team conferences while others are in eight-team conferences, mathematically reducing their chances of making the playoffs. But lest we forget that we only have to go back to the 1994-95 season to see a time where the NHL was playing with unbalanced conferences. The East and two more teams than the West at the time. It's not like this is something new.
In that same vein, people are already complaining about the possibility that the fifth-place team in one conference will have a better record than the fourth-place team in another conference and will miss the playoffs despite having a better season.
Ummm, hello? This happens every season in the NHL under the current format. Just last season the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames both had to watch the New York Rangers in the playoffs despite having more points when the season was done.
This is nothing new. You compete against your field, not the entirety of the league. It's why in college football an 8-4 conference champion (UConn in 2010, for example) can go to a BCS bowl. You are only judged by your peers.
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How about complaints like this one coming out of Buffalo? They still remember being the third best team in the NHL in 1989-90 and finished second in their division. They then had to play the NHL's fourth-best team, the Montreal Canadiens, in the first round and lost.
I just can't buy it. Even under the current playoff format, the Sabres would have had to go through the Canadiens eventually, anyway. In fact, get this. Under the current playoff format the Sabres and Canadiens would have played ... in the first round! Considering all division winners get the top seeds (pretending there were three divisions, just showing how two good "in-conference" teams would fit) the Sabres would be the four seed and the Habs the five.
One complaint that doesn't feel like just a complaint is regarding the balanced schedule. The Bruins now, for example, will be the Rangers as many times as the Ducks (or any team not in their conference). That seems a bit messed up, but it's sort of a necessary evil. Obviously the plus side to it is that you will get to see every team in every arena every season.
Plus, in theory it helps determine the four best teams in each conference. With close to half of a team's games being played intra-divisionally. It's an easier comparison, more apples to apples when looking at conference standings.
It's time to revamp the thinking. There is a reason why the NHL got rid of the word division in favor of four conferences. Based on the scheduling, the only thing that one of the Eastern conferences has in common with the other East conference is that it is in the East. As mentioned, they will play teams on the West Coast as often as teams 200 miles down the road.
It's being welcomed right now with mostly open arms from hockey fans. They are loving the concept. People are romantic about the past like that. But there might come a time when this system is loathed, too. However every system is loathed by somebody.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. But complaining about it is going to get you nowhere. Embrace it, people.
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