December 13, 2011

Fischler Report: Realignment has good, bad points

By Stan Fischler

Our national correspondent, Vince Comunale, examines the NHL’s future alignment plans:

You can’t please all of the people all the time. 

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (photo: Getty(

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (photo: Getty)

That bromide holds when it comes to the NHL’s realignment plan. There are many pros and cons.

Let’s review: Conference A features Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

Conference B consists of Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. It shapes up neatly for every franchise except Winnipeg, the lone Canadian team in the conference. The Jets will have to cross the border for every divisional road game.

Conference C features Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. At first glance, two of these teams wouldn’t seem to belong here, but, in the long-run, this will turn out to be a good thing for Florida and Tampa Bay.

Those franchises will be playing multiple times in hockey-crazed cities such as Montreal and Toronto.

Rivalries may actually form, whereas the bitterness never really built to a boiling point for these teams playing against the likes of Carolina and Atlanta.

Nine trips from Florida across the Canadian border may not be ideal, but I’m sure that the Canadian teams won’t mind six dates in sunny Florida in the middle of winter.

Lastly, Conference D features Carolina, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. This division boasts the best rivalries in the NHL.

The conferences proposed will please the majority of players. Most executives are happy with the new structure. The one negative will be the playoff setup.

It guarantees that we’ll never see a Crosby versus Ovechkin match-up in the third round. The latest that Penguins and Capitals could meet would be the second round.

Further, this format guarantees that by Round 3 of the playoffs, many of the biggest television markets will be eliminated.

An additional problem is the potential for extreme distance between opponents in the third round.

In this system, it’s possible for Vancouver and Tampa Bay to meet in Round 3 of the series and New Jersey and San Jose to meet in the other third-round match-up.

In this case, if the winners of the two series wound up as San Jose and Vancouver, then the entire Central and Eastern part of North America would have no rooting interest at all in the Stanley Cup Final.

The NHL put more thought into the playoffs aspect of this than needed. The NHL playoffs have always been the best in all of sports and there was no need to change it.

The East versus West format has been successful for decades. Surely, a complicated formula of television ratings, revenues, travel costs, etc. went into figuring out this playoff format, but sometimes common sense and logic should take precedence.

Canadian television may have had something to do with this new slat. It should be noted that all but one Conference, Conference D, has at least one Canadian team in it.

This fact gives greater odds to a Canadian team at least reaching the third round, thus keeping the Canadian television market interested deep into the playoffs

Observations

* Terry Murray was fired for the most obvious of reasons – the underachievement of his Los Angeles Kings, who visit Boston tonight.

For further reference just check what The Hockey News said in its season preview issue. Its headline blared, "AFTER YEARS IN THE MAKING, L.A. IS PRIMED FOR TOP BILLING.” The man who authored the preview, Jonathan Davis, added: "The Mike Richards deal vaults the Kings from playoff contender to Stanley Cup challenger."

All the Kings did thereafter for California hockey fans was indulge in a big build-up-to-a-letdown. Hence,John Stevens is rushed in to change the culture, the drive and -- GM Dean Lombardi hopes -- orchestrate a push with more than half a season remaining. It's not the tallest order but it won't be as easy as spelling Mike Richards.

Gossip

* Many pundits will argue that the Bruins have the best one-two goaltending tandem in the league withTim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. They may get a disputatious retort from Rangers coach John Tortorella (Melrose, Mass.). Martin Biron has proven to be a superb one-two stopper behind Henrik Lundqivst.

“The greatest thing about Marty,” Tortorella says, “is he’s such a great teammate. He keeps the room loose. He’s a veteran guy that understands his role, which is very important. And he’s won games. Look at his record since he’s been with us.”

* Jarome Iginla, Matt Hackett and John Carlson (Marlboro, Mass.) were named the NHL Three Stars of the Week. The third star went to Carlson of the Washington Capitals. Carlson tied for the league lead in points for the week with seven, recording back-to-back three point games as the Capitals won two of three.

Carlson began the week by notching three assists in a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers last Monday. On Wednesday, he recorded three points in a 5-3 victory over the Senators and finished the week with an assist in a 4-2 win over Toronto.

* Give credit to Carolina GM Jim Rutherford for publicly admitting that signing former Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a multi-year contract was a mistake. Disappointingly, Kaberle came to camp with a Stanley Cup hangover and his performance showed.

Stan Fischler can be reached at FischlerReport@gmail.com.