Besides Artem Anisimov’s shooting celebration and Sidney Crosby being out yet again, the big news in the NHL this week was the Board of Governors’ meeting in Pebble Beach. In a place more commonly known for putts and pars, the NHL invaded the greens with conversation about pucks and progress. During the meetings this week there was an approved plan to transform the NHL from its current two-conference format to one consisting of four conferences or divisions, whatever they decide to call them. There has been a lot of talk about the pros and cons of the system, but as a hockey person I think that this format is extremely beneficial to the hockey world and makes a whole lot more sense than what is currently in place, but I digress. The real issue at hand is what the new format will do to the St. Louis Blues, their playoff chances, and the future of the franchise.
Here is what the conferences will look like in the years to come if you haven’t seen it already. Conferences A & B will be comprised of teams that currently make up the Western Conference, and Conferences C & D will be mainly comprised of current Eastern Conference teams. However, this new alignment will sway more favorably to the geographic locations of most, if not all teams. Teams on the West Coast will be in a conference with West Coast teams, centrally located teams with other centrally located teams, etc. Additionally, each team in the NHL will face every other team twice, once at home and once on the road. What’s perhaps most intriguing is that the top 4 teams in each conference will make the playoffs.
For the Blues the realignment doesn’t cause a cosmic shift in which teams they’ll face regularly. As the Central Division of the Western Conference currently stands only Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Dallas will be added to make up the new ‘B’ Conference. Not a huge change. The Blues will still face Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, and Columbus consistently. With eight teams in the ‘B’ Conference, St. Louis will face all other ‘B’ Conference opponents five or six times. This isn’t much of a change as the Blues already play their Central division opponents six times a year. The real change for the Blues, and for the rest of the league is the prospect of facing every team in the NHL. This could add to the difficulty of their schedule or weaken it. It all depends on the state of the NHL as a whole. All in all the realignment only lessens the Blues travel.
What’s really at stake for the Blues, and for every NHL club is the prospects of making the playoffs. For the Blues the possibilities of playoff hockey don’t change much. The Blues already play in a tough division with the only real push over team being Columbus. The Blues will add two tough opponents in Minnesota and Dallas, and get a scrappy team in Winnipeg. Just like it is now, the Blues will have to play well to make the playoffs. There will never be a Blues team that coasts into the playoffs, at least as they are currently assembled. The Blues stand to compete for the playoffs every year with Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas, and Nashville. As I see it now and in the future the top four teams in conference ‘B’ will be Chicago, Dallas, Detroit and St. Louis. Nashville will push the Blues and many of the other teams in the conference but given that Detroit is an ever-aging team, the Blues could be in the playoffs consistently for years to come.
In the future the realignment plan will pay big dividends for the Blues and the rest of the league. More games locally and more games in the same time zone will result in more viewership. No longer will the Blues be playing regularly at 9:00pm when on the West Coast. There will be less travel out to places like Anaheim and Edmonton, which will cut costs and result in financial gains for the club. All in all, the Blues will still be the Blues, realignment or not.