PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Several complaints have surfaced among fans and the media since the NHL board of governors announced drastic realignment Monday.
Most of the concerns are based on the proposed playoff structure, which will provide intra-conference series for the opening two rounds of the playoffs.
The National Hockey League plans to split into four independent conferences in the realignment with each team playing conference opponents five to six times during the regular season depending on conference size (two conferences are comprised of eight teams and two of seven teams). Every team will also play all non-conference opponents twice a year, once at home and once on the road.
The top four teams in each division will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and each conference will be broken into four different brackets. Those four brackets will play out into four conference champions, which will then go head to head to determine who plays for the Stanley Cup.
The biggest criticism of the new model focuses on the likely repetitive nature of the playoff matchups. Accordingly, traditional rivals will not be able to play each other in late-season playoff series.
In Pittsburgh’s case, the Penguins will not be able to play against Philadelphia, Washington, New York or New Jersey – traditional playoff rivals – in the third round of the playoffs to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The last two times the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals they went through New York and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Still, it doesn’t seem many players are fazed by the realignment.
“I don’t think it matters if you play a team in the first round or the fourth round,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said after Monday’s practice, according to the Penguins official website. “If that’s one of the best teams, you still gotta beat them either way. Whether or not you lose in the finals or you lose in the first round, I don’t think anyone takes too much consolation in losing in the finals so it’s pretty much the same.”
Forward Craig Adams said he didn’t mind, either. He added the repetitive nature in the past is what made the traditional rivalries that exist today.
“I think it’s one of those things, when I was growing up that’s the way it was with the Smythe Division,” he said. “It was always Calgary-Edmonton, Calgary-Vancouver. It’s exciting, I think it’s exciting for the fans. A lot of the rivalries we have today go back to those days when you always played those teams in the playoffs.
“It’s not that we couldn’t play or haven’t played Philly recently anyway in the playoffs. We still play them six times in the regular season and you might run into them in the playoffs. I don’t think I feel strongly one way or another about that.”
Players noted some positives like getting to play in every building every year. In turn, fans throughout the league will see superstars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
Preserving rivalries with the Flyers, Capitals, Rangers and Devils is another aspect players and coaches are in favor of.
In other words, those concerns from fans and the media don’t seem to be shared by the team.
“You’re gonna see a lot of the same matchups and rivalries happening in close proximity in the playoffs,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s gonna add for some pretty entertaining, pretty exciting post-season rivalry matchups throughout the years as it goes forward.
“I think the one area for us was being with our rivals and being with the teams we have big rivalries with, and you see that with the conference we’re in.”