With the announcement yesterday of the NHL’s plan for realignment following the 2011-12 season, will this reorganization affect the Boston Bruins and their chances to remain a top team for years into the future?
The Bruins and their Northeast Division rivals will welcome two teams into their new seven-team conference next season as per the terms of the Board of Governors-approved realignment plan. Both Peninsular-State franchises – the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers – should join the newly-minted ‘conference’ in 2012-13.
This ‘Adams Conference’* will see its teams play six times against each of their conference foes for a total of 36 intra-divisional games a season. Additionally, each team from the Adams would then play 46 out-of-conference games against the other 23 teams in the League: One home and one away game against each (it’s more complicated for teams in the eight-squad ‘conferences’… but I won’t get into those here).
This means the B’s will play the Habs, Sens, Leafs and Sabres the same number of times they have in recent years. However, now they’ll be adding an extra two games against each of the Panther and Bolts, while cutting back significantly in the number of times they’ll see former Atlantic and Southeast Division foes Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, Carolina, New Jersey, Winnipeg, the Rangers and the Islanders.
Additionally, this means more games against teams from the former Western Conference. This year the Bruins will play one game against twelve teams from the West and twice against three teams (this season: the Sharks, the Kings and the Blue Jackets). In the future Boston will play host to the Hawks, the ‘Nucks (what fun!) and the Wings once every season.
Obviously the B’s will be traveling to Florida a bit more (probably one more ‘Southern Swing’ road trip a year) which might be a tad detrimental but they’re traveling to Florida in winter so all complaints are really off-base.
How does this affect the Bruins? A look at their recent history (since the 2008-09 season) brings up some interesting issues:
- The Bruins are 27-22-11 against teams in the current Western Conference, a point percentage of just .541. Compare this to their overall .637 point percentage in that span. With an added 12 games against those squads the Bruins could take a hit.
- The Bruins will see the members of the new ‘Patrick’* Division in half as many games each season as they have in recent years. This isn’t great news as the Bruins have gone 61-30-13 against them (and Winnipeg, who’s headed to the new ‘Norris’* Division), good for a .649 point percentage since ’08-’09.
- Of these squads the Bruins will be most disappointed to see the Jets and the Isles go. Since 2008-09 the Bruins are a combined 22-3-2 against these cupcakes. On the other hand, the B’s will be glad they don’t have to face the Rangers much anymore: They have a 4-7-1 mark against the Blueshirts since the start of the 2008-09 season.
- With the greater emphasis on intra-divisional games, how will the Bruins fare? They’ve gone 49-23-10 against the current Northeast Division over the last three-plus seasons (82 games) and own a very healthy .659 point percentage in those games.
- Adding in the Bruins’ record against Florida and Tampa in that span (18-6-1) and you get 67-29-11 for a point percentage of .678 against their new conference in the past three-plus seasons of play.
So it appears that realignment will bring a bit of a mixed bag for the Bruins. They’ll benefit from the focus on intra-divisional games against teams they’ve been strong against in recent seasons while losing out with more games against current-Western Conference teams that they’ve had more difficulty with in the past three seasons.
Of course, just looking at the stats in a vacuum doesn’t paint the whole picture. Florida and Tampa are both trending up and will probably only add to the competition within the division. Buffalo, Toronto and Montreal are going to be perennial spend-to-the-cap competitors and if Ottawa’s rebuild is successful there will be absolutely no easy games on the conference schedule.
The Bruins are built for the long-haul and it will be hard to imagine them consistently struggling to finish in the Adams’ top four in coming seasons.
Fans will certainly lose some in the change. With the Black and Gold facing off against talented rivals Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York and Washington just twice a year (and once at home) is certainly less than ideal. This is balanced (a bit) by adding some excellent and exciting teams from the old West to the home schedule every year.
*Honestly, who doesn’t want to see a return to the pre-geographic division names? ‘Northeast Division’, ‘Pacific Division’ – these have no heart. Give us back the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe Divisions … or perhaps the Howe, Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr Conferences?
Bob is a Boston Bruins Correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He lives in the Boston Metro Area with his wife, Amanda and their five-year-old son, Cormac.