The NHL announced Monday that it will change to a new format in the 2012-13 season. It’s current formart of Eastern and Western conferences with 3 divisions each will be abolished for a new re-aligned set up with 4 separate conferences.
Chicago will be in a conference with 7 other teams: Columbus, Detroit, St Louis and Nashville who are all in the Central Division will remain in what is being called Conference B. Joining these 5 teams will be the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and the newly migrated Winnipeg Jets all of whom are leaving their respective divisions en route to a newly formed mega conference.
Fans in Minnesota will vividly remember the great battles that their Minnesota North Stars as part of the Norris Division with the Blues, Red Wings and Blackhawks before moving toDallas. In fact, with Dallas in the same division now, all of the old franchises from the old James Norris division will be reunited with the exception of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Winnipeg Jets also spent a season in the Norris in 1981-82 but that was short lived. However, they did spend their final 3 seasons in the Central Division before moving onto the desert and Phoenix.
Conference B as it will is touted for now will be one of two conferences with 8 teams, there will also be two with 7 teams. Chicago will play each team in their conference 5 or 6 times per season on a rotational basis. They will play every other NHL team twice on a home and home. For Chicago this also means a guaranteed visit from the Eastern Original Six teams Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York.
In terms of the playoffs, Chicago will need to get out of its own conference in order to play on. However, once they are down to only the four conference champions, the remaining teams will be re-seeded and will play 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs.3.
What does this mean for the black and blue rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks? Well, they will only meet twice over a couple of nights per season and there is still a chance of the Hawks meeting Vancouver in the second last round or they could play for all of the marbles in the Stanley Cup Final. I’m no mathmetician but those odds don’t look very good. The rivalry will probably fizzle.
In a league blanketed with tradition, it is unlikely that the NHL will start next season without first naming the newly formed conferences. Despite the options available to the league for a naming honor of Conference B such as: Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Steve Yzerman, Ed Belfour, Tony Esposito and Ted Lindsay. My choice is Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe.
I haven’t completely made up my mind on the new format, and I probably won’t for several months, but I am looking forward to the new rivalries that will be born of this format and old rivalries that will be re-emerge.