NHL Realignment Closer to Reality: Long Live the Patrick Division

NHL Realignment Closer to Reality: Long Live the Patrick Division

According to a report by TSN, the NHL has approved a realignment of its teams, moving to a four-conference format pending approval by the NHLPA. We were happy enough to see the "Atlanta Thrashers" franchise move to Winnipeg to become the second NHL incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. The fact that this movement made it necessary for the league to reincarnate the Patrick Division* of our youths is the next benefit to be reaped. 

Let's take a look at the new NHL, from its likely new divisions to a potentially punishing playoff format...

*Of course, it's not exactly the Patrick Division, because the Carolina Hurricanes didn't exist at the time. Give us back the Hartford Whalers and we'll have it all... Well, almost. We probably won't get the great names of the divisions/conferences back either, if for no other reason than the new system gets rid of both divisions and conferences as we know them. The new proposed realignment will be a hybrid of the old and the recent—with four "conferences" representing some sort of middle ground between a pair of conferences with multiple divisions in each.

The Flyers' new conference foes, beginning as soon as next season, are the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes. That's the Patrick Division from 1982-1993, plus the Hurricanes. Fans who cringed when the league traded in its history-based titles to follow in the NBA's region-based-nomenclature footsteps aren't restraining breaths in hopes of names with a bit more character, but hey, it's good to have the Caps back, at least from a rivalry standpoint. If their recent success is a sign of things to come—and we think it is—the Flyers just got back a great rival, only with a whole lot more at stake. This particular rival won enough games to meet the President last season (albeit in a weaker division).

The currently marketable Penguins also get to play within their rivalries—the Caps, the Rangers, and the Flyers. Hate them or hate them, the Pens are one of the most marketable teams in the game, a characteristic they share with three other clubs in their conference.

And hey, we've seen some success against Hurricanes, so… welcome aboard, Carolina.

The "conference" to the "north" has the weirdest adopted-team situation, with Tampa Bay and Florida joining a grouping that includes the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres.

The Jets will join the Flyover Conference (Blackhawks, Red Wings, Wild, Blue Jackets, Blues, Predators, and Stars—nice to see the Stars out of the "Pacific"). Out west, we'll see the three California teams—Sharks, Kings, Ducks along with the Coyotes, Avalanche, Canucks, Flames, and Oilers.

Counting on our fingers, that's two conferences that have seven teams (including the one the Flyers are in) and two that have eight. The TSN report says seven-teamers will play each other six times per season (splitting home duties), and the eight-teamers will alternate home-friendly seasons. Here's how the playoff situation could break down:

The top four teams in each Conference would qualify for the playoffs.
The first-place team would play the fourth-place team; the second-place
team would play the third-place team. The four respective Conference
champions would meet in the third round of the Playoffs, with the
survivors playing for the Stanley Cup.

NHL general managers will determine the playoff structure after round two in the proposed realignment.

A strong conference like the one the Flyers play in could pose more challenge to making the playoffs, particularly for the teams that aren't perennially good. Advancing may also prove more challenging, and teams with higher point totals could lose postseason slots to teams with lower totals in weaker conferences. If a team makes the playoffs, the likelihood that it will see a rival in the first round is high, but it could be less likely they'll make the postseason at all.

Nothing's set in concrete yet, and the reports have changed with each passing hour tonight. There are still some significant playoff questions to be answered. But it looks like a solid foundation has been poured for the league's immediate structural future.

What are your thoughts?

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves leads Rangers past Kings

Best of NHL: Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves leads Rangers past Kings

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Rangers over the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday night.

Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel and Mats Zuccarello scored to help New York win its third straight since a three-game skid.

Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford scored, and Jeff Zatkoff finished with 14 saves for Los Angeles, which has lost four straight and five of seven.

Lundqvist has given up just four goals on 84 shots during the winning streak -- including a 1-0 shutout at Detroit on Monday -- after allowing 20 on 113 shots the previous four games.

The veteran goalie needed to be at his best in this one as the Kings, who last played Saturday across town against the Islanders, seemed a step faster from the start and controlled play for most of the first two periods (see full recap).

Caps top 'Canes to extend point streak to 14 games
WASHINGTON -- Defenseman Dmitry Orlov scored twice and the Washington Capitals kept the offense rolling to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Monday night and extend their point streak to 14 games.

Orlov doubled his goal output for the season and Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller also scored for the Capitals, who have won three in a row and haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 27. Washington scored on six of its 25 shots on Cam Ward and handed Carolina its fourth consecutive loss.

Braden Holtby made 25 saves for his 23rd victory of the season. The only goal he allowed came from Jordan Staal on the power play in the first period.

The Capitals allowed the first goal for the first time in 11 games but scored six unanswered to continue their winning ways. They've scored 44 goals in their past eight games (see full recap).

Kadri reaches 20 goals as Leafs beat Flames
TORONTO -- Nazem Kadri scored twice to tie his career high with 20 goals this season, Frederik Andersen stopped 26 shots and the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a two-game winless streak with a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night.

Kadri beat Brian Elliott twice, and Andersen captured his second shutout as a Leaf.

Rookies Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman also scored for Toronto, which sits third in the Atlantic Division with 53 points.

Elliott gave up four goals on 28 shots, dropping his fourth consecutive start.

The Flames have lost three in a row and five of the past six. They are a point up on Vancouver for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference (see full recap).