The National Hockey League made a lot of business moves this week, and all of the moves seem good for the league on the surface. From divisions, to the new schedule, to the Olympic break, let’s break it down!
- New divisions: The NHL’s four new divisions were approved at the beginning of the year, but they became official this week. The Atlantic Division features the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. The newly-named Metropolitan Division features the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Western Conference’s Central Division includes the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets. And the Pacific Division teams are the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. The major highlights of the new division alignment are the Red Wings and Blue Jackets going from the Western Conference to the East, while the Winnipeg Jets move to the West. For all three teams, it only made sense to switch conferences. Detroit and Columbus are Eastern cities, and them being in the Western Conference didn’t make much sense to begin with. Winnipeg is located much closer to Edmonton than Montreal or Toronto, so being in the West makes travel easier for them as well. As for the play on the ice, right now you’d have to figure that Boston is the favorite in the Atlantic, the Penguins are the favorite in the Metropolitan (with the Rangers not too far behind), the Blackhawks are the favorite in the Central, and the Kings are the favorite in the Pacific. The Pacific looks like the toughest division on paper at this moment, with the Kings, Sharks and Canucks perennial favorites in the West, a very good Anaheim team and a sleeper in Edmonton. All in all, a very exciting new division alignment and a good alignment for the NHL.
- 2013-2014 schedule: With the new divisions came the release of the new schedule, with some good games to look forward to. On October 1, the Chicago Blackhawks will have their banner night, celebrating the 2013 Stanley Cup Championship before a game against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Many eyes will be watching intently on October 3o when the Boston Bruins face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals, which Boston won in a sweep. You have to wonder what the Pittsburgh crowd’s reaction will be to Jarome Iginla hitting the ice after he signed with the Bruins this offseason after rejecting a trade to them in favor of the Penguins in February. On the fifth of November Tyler Seguin will make his return to Boston for the first time after he was traded to the Stars. Two nights later, Rick Nash will make his return to Columbus, where the Blue Jacket fans will likely have a very mixed reaction to their former captain coming back home after requesting a trade out of there last year. Recently fired Rangers coach John Tortorella will make his return to New York as Vancouver coach on November 30, which promises to be interesting. On New Year’s Day 2014, the Winter Classic returns when the Maple Leafs visit the Red Wings at the Big House, Michigan Stadium. The game will draw a record crowd, with the home of the Wolverines having a capacity of 109,901. Along with the Winter Classic, the NHL is starting a series of outdoor games called the “Stadium Series.” Those games include Ducks-Kings at Dodger Stadium, the Rangers hosting the Devils, then the Islanders at Yankee Stadium, and the Blackhawks hosting the Penguins at Soldier Field. A lot of great games on the docket, so check your local listings and be sure to tune in. You won’t want to miss all of the big games this year.
- Olympic Break: The big news coming from the league office was that, despite a lot of speculation to the contrary, the NHL will put its season on hold so the players can play in the Olympics. This is a great move for everyone, and in the modern day winter Olympics, the hockey tournament needs the stars to be there representing their country. What would the 2010 gold medal game have been like if it was an amateur player scoring the winner instead of Crosby? The fans won’t tune in if the best players in the world aren’t playing, and both sides recognized that.
In summation, the NHL gets an A+ for their recent moves. Although no one agrees with every decision Gary Bettman makes, these moves benefited everyone in the hockey world.