We all knew when the NHL realigned that there would be sacrifices made. We all knew things would change. Most of us just didn’t expect division rivalries to be bulldozed in the name of getting every team into every arena.
The first change you’ll notice is that in the sixteen team eastern conference divisional games have dropped from six fierce games per season to a weak kneed four. Against the opposite division there will be just three games. And a two games against each team in the west. One home, one away. The Flyers and Bruins who have enjoyed a rivalry for decades will barely play enough to wake up the blood lust. The chance to see Ovechkin and Malkin dueling on the ice will only happen four times. Nathan Horton will square off against his former teams in Florida and Boston just three times each.
The goal behind this is to drive more visitors to more arenas with fan bases that are still growing. The hope is that when people in New York or Buffalo, and Winnipeg or Chicago have vacation time an some spare money and can’t get tickets for a home game they’ll fly off to one of the cities with a less engaged fan base and buy tickets, support their team, buy drinks, merchandise and keep the arena loud and full.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck for hardcore fans of the major rivalries. The Rangers and Islanders only square off four times, and that rivalry is one that’s been getting hotter over the last two years. Worse, the realignment may backfire and concentrate the All Star voting and major awards votes even further into well known names in well known places. With rookies like Jones, Domi, and Barkov getting less trips to the big cities than their counterparts in previous years, they will get measurably less exposure. This makes their teams less captivating, and if you don’t have any other stars to pull people in, and those youngsters don’t get the exposure across the continent to draw in revenue from outside the market, I don’t see the gain.