Changes are on the way in the NHL. The news broke on Monday that the NHL would adopt a drastic realignment plan for the 2012-2013 season that would split the league into four conferences instead of the current six division format. What does this plan mean for the Phoenix Coyotes going forward and does the plan reveal anything about the future of the franchise in Arizona?
Phoenix is set to be in the westernmost conference in the new plan alongside current Pacific Division rivals Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. The new conference would also include Colorado and the western Canada franchises of Calgay, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The 1,700 mile trek from Phoenix to Edmonton would be the furthest between conference opponents in the NHL, just behind the Florida Panthers trip to Montreal.
One of most noticeable issues with the new alignment plan is that the two western conferences plan to have eight-team conferences, while the eastern conferences will have two seven-team conferences. With the top four teams in each conference making the playoffs, the teams in the East have a slight edge to make the post-season. This will be especially true for the Coyotes, who will be in a strong conference with perennial playoff contenders Vancouver and San Jose, as well as teams full of young stars in Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Edmonton.
Map showing realignment after the jump.
Map via Cassie McClellan at Raw Charge.
One thing that has western franchises excited is the home-and-home series held between each team in the league. This means the big name teams like Pittsburg, Detroit, Chicago, and Washington will bring their star studded rosters to the desert once a year to take on the Yotes. This will do a ton to improve attendance numbers across the board in the NHL.
The real questions Coyote fans have is how, if at all, will this realignment plan impact the Desert Dogs staying in Glendale. Really, at this point it is hard to see how it will play out. It is just ridiculous this realignment plan was done while the Coyotes are still under the ownership of the NHL and there has been no mention of what would happen if the ownership situation was resolved and the franchise moved to an eastern destination like Quebec City. Did the league plan for the future, or would the league be put in the same situation as it is now because of Atlanta's move to Winnipeg in the off-season?
It could be that the Coyotes are the reason for the league leaving two open slots in the eastern conferences. These two open slots also leaves the door open for speculation of an eventual expansion to a 32-team league. The fans in Phoenix have proven to be a patient bunch, so to see the effect this realignment will have on the NHL and the Coyotes we will just have to wait.