The NHL schedule has been out for a few days now and fans are still trying to wrap their head around it a little bit.
The inbox here at FlyersInsideOut.com is chock full of questions from Flyers fans about the new divisional realignment, the way the schedule is broken down, how the playoffs are going to work now and what the heck is a Metropolitan (besides a member of a bad baseball team).
So, I thought it would be a good idea to have a bit of an NHL Realignment 101 here on the blog to answer those burning questions and clear up confusion.
Here’s the tutorial:
The Flyers are now members of the newly minted Metropolitan Division. The name, as I expressed on Twitter last week, was an awful choice by the NHL. But, in reality, that’s nobody’s nightmare with the exception of some marketing departments.
|Amerigo Vespuci himself (the mapmaker who the United States of America were named after) would have been confounded with the Eastern Conference coordinates in the NHL.|
What is more important though, is who makes up the new division.
The Flyers will be able to maintain their rivalries with all of their former Atlantic Division foes, as Pittsburgh, New Jersey and both New York teams are also in the new division.
They are not alone though, and are being joined by a couple newbies and one former divisional denizen.
The Washington Capitals are back in the division for the first time since 1998, when they bolted for the late Southeast Division.
Bringing the Capitals back is a good thing from a competitive perspective for the Flyers, who have always maintained a bit of a dislike for their former divisional mates, and now, playing them more regularly than the rest of the Eastern Conference will fuel that even further and make for more spotlighted, intense hockey.
The Carolina Hurricanes are new to the division, and aside from a series of trades last decade, have very little in the way of history with the Flyers as the two teams have never met in the playoffs, and have pretty much dominated the season series each year, having not lost one since 1991-92, when the Hurricanes were still the Hartford Whalers. Since then the Flyers are 53-11-13 against the franchise.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are the other new kid on the block, and again are known more for their trades with the Flyers than games against them. Maybe that’s because the Flyers and Jackets have only played 11 times in the 12 seasons Columbus has existed. The Flyers are 6-2-3 lifetime against Columbus and didn’t play them last season because the Jackets were a Western Conference team until this season.
It is probably a good thing that the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is so strong right now for the NHL, because that is the sole reason they are in the same division still. If the rivalry was dormant for whatever reason, it’s a good bet that Pittsburgh and Columbus would have joined the Northeast Division teams with Detroit while the two Florida teams came in their place in the Flyers Division.
It makes more geographical sense, but much like in the NFL where it boggles the mind that the Dallas Cowboys belong in the East, the decision had more to do with the rivalry and the television dollars than it did with actually passing a geography exam.
That’s why things in the East are a bit befuddling.
As mentioned, moving East this season is the Detroit Red Wings, who, from their location in the Great Lakes region of the U.S.A. are now a member of the Atlantic Division (the old Flyers’ Division that retained none of its previous teams).
Detroit joins the former Northeast Division teams from Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Buffalo as well as newcomers Tampa Bay and Florida.
The one team that used to be in the East that moved West is the Winnipeg Jets.
The schedules are a little unbalanced as the Eastern Conference has 16 teams and the Western Conference only has 14 teams.
Not only will the schedules be different, but it will be that much harder for Eastern teams to make the playoffs with another team in the way, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let’s look at how games are being scheduled.
The Flyers will play 30 games against Metropolitan Division opponents, 24 games against Atlantic Division foes and 28 games against Western Conference opposition.
Within the Division, the Flyers will play five teams four times each (twice at home and twice on the road) and two teams five times each (one of them three times at home the other three times on the road). The teams they play five times will rotate from season to season. For the 2013-14 season the Flyers will play Pittsburgh and Washington five times each (the extra home game is against the Caps).
Against the Atlantic Division, the Flyers will face each team three times, with four of them playing in Philadelphia twice and four coming to the Wells Fargo Center once with the Flyers visiting those teams twice. These will flip flop from season to season. That means, for 2013-14 the Flyers will be visited by Toronto, Buffalo, Montreal and Boston twice. That means the Atlantic Division teams coming to Philly twice in 2014-15 will be Tampa Bay, Florida, Detroit and Ottawa.
The easy part of the scheduling to figure out is the Western Conference teams as every year the Flyers will play each team twice, once at home and once on the road.
How will this work in the playoffs though?
This is somewhat confusing to the average fan too as it is a hybrid of sorts, mixing the old-fashioned play-through-your-division-first format from the 1980s and the most recent inter-conference playoff format that we grew accustomed too in the past two decades.
Now, the top three teams in each division will make the playoffs and then two “wild card” teams to make up the final two spots, meaning five teams from one division can make the playoffs with only three from the other, or it could be four from each.
The format will then be split partially by Conference seeding and partially by divisional standings.
(Try to keep up…)
The Division winners will be seeded No. 1 and No. 2. The Wild Cards will be seeded No. 7 and No. 8. Therefore, No. 1 will play No. 8 and No. 2 will play No. 7 regardless of Divisions – just like previous seasons.
However, there will be no seeding of No. 3 through No. 6. Instead, those middle ground teams will play against the other team from their division regardless of records.
So, second place in the Metropolitan will play third place in the Metropolitan and second place in the Atlantic will play third place in the Atlantic.
In the second round, there will no longer be a re-seeding, and teams will be bracketed out.
The second and third place teams from the Metropolitan Division will be in the same bracket as the first place team from the Metropolitan and whichever Wild Card team they play in the first round. Conversely the second and third place teams from the Atlantic will play in the same bracket as the first place team in the Atlantic Division and whichever Wild Card team they draw.
In essence, this means one side of the bracket could have, say, the fifth place team from the Atlantic playing the third place team from the Metropolitan in one semifinal while the first and second place teams from the Atlantic are in the other semifinal.
Sound unfair? Well, it is. But, that’s the way it’s going to be for at least three seasons or until the NHL figures out that it’s possible for their playoffs to suddenly become inequitable at such a critical time to the teams that performed best during an 82-game regular season, the results of which completely lose relevance after the first playoff round is complete.
For an example of this craziness, let’s look at what the final standings would have been last season if these teams were in their current divisions, and look at what the playoff matchups could have brought.
1. Pittsburgh 72 points
2. Washington 57
3. New York Rangers 56
4. New York Islanders 55
5. Columbus 55
6. FLYERS 49
7. New Jersey 48
8. Carolina 42
1. Montreal 63
2. Boston 62
3. Toronto 57
4. Detroit 56
5. Ottawa 56
6. Buffalo 48
7. Tampa Bay 40
8. Florida 36
Based on those standings, the Quarterfinals would have been:
Ottawa at Pittsburgh
New York Rangers at Washington
Detroit at Montreal
Toronto at Boston
Now, for the purposes of our example, let’s say Montreal and Boston both win their series as favorites, but that Ottawa upsets Pittsburgh and the Rangers pull off a mild upset of Washington.
That means the semifinals would match up Ottawa (No. 5 Atlantic) against the New York Rangers (No. 3 Metropolitan) while the top two teams from the Atlantic – Montreal and Boston – would meet in the other semifinal.
It won’t always work that way, but it’s possible, and if it does, it renders the hard work of a more successful regular season than most other teams as moot.
Nevertheless, this is how it works now, for better… or worse.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37