NHL's latest realignment proposal will intensify rivalries

NHL's latest realignment proposal will intensify rivalries
February 27, 2013, 9:00 am
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If adopted, the NHL's latest realignment proposal will add three new teams to the Atlantic Division and likely intensify already heated rivalries. (AP)

Be prepared to hear the words “Flyers” and “wild card” in the same sentence.

The NHL and NHLPA are working on a proposed realignment plan that would keep the current two-conference model but split those conferences -- Eastern and Western -- into just two divisions. The top three teams from each division would qualify for the playoffs, while two wild cards teams from each conference would be introduced into the league’s new playoff format.

Unless the league expands by two more teams, the Flyers (and every other team in the proposed Eastern Conference) will be at a competitive disadvantage from their Western Conference counterparts. Under the proposal, the East would be a 16-team conference, co-opting Detroit and Columbus from the 14-team West.

The current Atlantic Division would adopt three new members -- the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets -- to form a new seven-team division, with the top three teams receiving automatic playoffs bids. Using last season as an example, the Rangers would have been the No. 1 seed, the Penguins the No. 2 seed and the Flyers the No. 3 seed.

The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each division would always play one another in the opening round of the playoffs and it’s practical to think that the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots could both come out of the Atlantic Division. However, assuming the point totals were identical, the last time the Atlantic Division could have produced five playoff teams under this model would have been the 2008-09 season. In this scenario, it’s inevitable that one wild-card team will have to start a first-round series against a Central Division team (i.e. Detroit, Boston).

All of the above requires approval from the NHLPA and the NHL’s Board of Governors, but the proposed realignment appears to have eased the travel concerns the players had when they shot down the previous four-conference plan a year ago.

But what does it mean for the Flyers? It seems the hatred between the Flyers and their divisional rivals -- specifically, the Penguins -- will only intensify when the postseason rolls around. Using the point totals from the previous five seasons and assuming the Red Wings/Blue Jackets finish with very similar point totals, here’s how the Flyers would have fared over the past five years:

2011-2012: Third in the Atlantic Division, would have played Pittsburgh in the first round (no different)

2010-2011: Second in the Atlantic Division qualifier, would have played Pittsburgh in the first round instead of Buffalo

2009-2010: Second wild-card team, would have played Washington in the first round instead of New Jersey

2008-2009: First wild-card team, would have played New Jersey in the first round instead of Pittsburgh

2007-2008: First wild-card team, would have played Pittsburgh in the first round instead of Washington