If the NHL’s radical plan for realignment goes through, the Florida Panthers will be spending more time in the air, and transplants and visitors from Canada will be able to see their teams more often in South Florida.
The proposed shift to a four-division alignment is the hot topic at league meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif., and could be voted on later Monday or Tuesday.
The Panthers would sever Southeast Division ties with all but Tampa Bay and move into a new division featuring three of the NHL’s Original Six: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo and the Lightning.
The other proposed divisions:
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Washington and Carolina
Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, Colorado and Phoenix
Winnipeg, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota and Dallas
If adopted, teams would play five or six games with those in their division and home-and-home against everyone else.
From a fan’s perspective, that would seem much more attractive than those too-frequent meetings with Carolina and Atlanta/Winnipeg of recent years.
For the Panthers, it will greatly increase travel expenses and the number and duration of trips. GM Dale Tallon has frequently complained about the Panthers’ “terrible” travel situation. This would mean longer flights even to games within the division, with the exception of Tampa Bay.
However, Panthers center Stephen Weiss, a Toronto native, said he would relish the chance to play more often in his homeland.
“It’s a lot of travel. But at the end of the day we don’t have a say in what goes on anyway. What will be will be. But that would certainly be a neat conference to play in,” Weiss said.
The plan needs approval of 20 of the 30 teams, and is not a certainty. Support is strong among Western teams, but some in the East are not in favor of the increased travel.
A simpler alternative under consideration is moving Winnipeg to the Western Conference and granting Detroit a long-desired moved to the East while retaining the current six divisions.
Under the proposed four-division format, the top four teams in each would make the playoffs. Teams would play the first two rounds within their division, which would further strengthen rivalries. The Panthers would benefit from being in one of the two seven teams divisions, while the other two would have eight teams.