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The Daily Five – Things To Like About NHL Realignment

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When the news broke yesterday that the NHL had committed to a realignment package, I immediately thought to ask my good friend and sports guru, Brad Riter to tell me what I should like about it.

Brad is currently the public address announcer for UB Basketball games. Prior to that, Brad was Sports Director and Program Director at WECK 1230AM where he worked UB Bulls football games and discussed sports with a stellar gallery of guests each day. Prior to his tenure at WECK, Brad hosted the Sabres post-game show at WGR 550AM as well as his own nightly talk show. His resume is much more extensive than that, but trust me, he knows a thing or two about sports.

Take it away, Brad.

Brad Riter

Five Things To Like About NHL Realignment:

My first contribution to “The Daily Five” revolves around the announcement of a surprisingly radical realignment plan by the NHL Board of Governors.  The whole thing kicks in next season.

Dating back to the NFL’s realignment of 2002, I’ve made a case to anyone willing to listen that a league consisting of four eight-team divisions makes far more sense than one made up of eight four-team divisions.   So with this move, we get the “super divisions” that I’ve been calling for…only they’re called “conferences.”  And it’s 10 years late.  And it’s in a different sport.

1. Current rivalries remain intact.  Assuming you’re a Sabres fan, nothing that you’re REALLY used to is going away.  A ton of games against Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto await.  Bonus:  for fans who like to map a vacation around the team’s travel plans, now you’ve got extra visits to the Panthers and Lightning to utilize (at least until Number 2 on my list goes into effect.)  Oh, and every team visits every city every year.  Cool.

2. Potential for back to back games (or even a 3 game series) in one city.  If simplification of travel is truly at the heart of this plan, wouldn’t it make sense to occasionally (or ultimately, after a transitional phase, always) play the entire slate of games between two teams in one trip?  Do the Oilers really need to make the 1367 mile flight from Edmonton to Los Angeles three separate times throughout the season and vice versa?  One trip to play three games over the course of five nights makes more sense, adds playoff-like intensity, and allows familiarity to breed contempt.

Palpable Contempt

3. “Conference” (formerly “division”) now means something so the regular season means more…   or something…  I think…  right?  I’ll admit I can’t completely get my head around this yet but it certainly feels as though moving into an era where you always need to battle one of your closest rivals to make it past round one of the playoffs is a good thing.  With round two playoff rules yet to be announced, this may wind up being irrelevant but, for now, I’m happy to watch a league in which you’ve got to make it out of your division conference before you get to take on the rest of the league.  Note:  We’re all going to need some time to adjust to the language of this whole thing.  As fans of professional sports in North America, we’re conditioned to think of the term “conference” as a synonym for “half the league” and that doesn’t go away just because Commissioner Gary Bettman has an idea.

4. Possible (likely?) return of historic “conference” names.  When “Adams Division” is replaced by “Northeast Division,” a Canadian angel loses its wings, crashes to Earth and dies.  Even perpetually out-of-touch Bettman has to be aware of society’s obsession with nostalgia.  Here’s a chance to return the Smythes and Norrises of the world to their rightful place in the daily NHL conversation.  It’s also an opportunity to put a new spin on it, honoring more recent legends like Gretzky and Orr.  If it’s Bettman alone making the decision, don’t rule out names like “Conference One” but my fingers are crossed that the Board of Governors and logic will prevail.

5. If you don’t like it, don’t worry…  it won’t last.  The NHL has spent the past 30+ years searching for a magical formula.   While this is the first adjustment since 1998, the league’s track record gives us no indication that we should think of what we’re getting now as permanent.