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|The Blackhawks and Red Wings could be seeing each other in the playoffs fairly frequently under the NHL's new four-conference setup.|
CHICAGO -- There were mixed reviews in the Blackhawks dressing room after practice on Wednesday regarding the planned realignment the NHL will put into effect starting next season.
Instead of six divisions there will be four, two with eight teams and two with seven. The Hawks will join central division holdovers St. Louis, Detroit, Columbus and Nashville while welcoming Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg to the newly formed conference.
“I’m on the fence a little bit on it,” veteran Andrew Brunette said. “The rivalries will be neat. I like that you’re going to play first round of the playoffs within your division. It’s going to almost create the old Norris division rivalries which as a kid growing up [I watched]. That will be the fun part about it.”
The first two rounds of the postseason will be between the four teams that make the playoffs in each new conference. Add the 5-6 regular season games the Hawks will play against conference opponents and rivalries are certain to intensify.
But it means those out of conference rivalries won’t have the same juice. Under the new system the Hawks will play Vancouver only twice in the regular season and only in the third round of the playoffs or later.
“Whatever we lose with them we’ll gain with Minnesota or St. Louis or Dallas,” Patrick Sharp said. “Get Detroit going again.”
Most were unanimous in their dislike of the unbalanced number of teams in the four conferences. The Hawks have to fight seven other teams to make the playoffs -- the top four get in -- while the two eastern conferences only have six others to battle. Joel Quenneville pointed out starting next year the Hawks will have a “50-50” chance of making the playoffs while under the current system they have better than that. Eight out of 15 teams currently make the playoffs.
The other western conference has eight teams as well.
“I don’t know how fair 16 teams in one conference and 14 in the other is,” Brunette said. “There could be some movement with Phoenix or some of those other teams.”
The other issue is the idea of a non-playoff team from one conference having more points than a playoff team from another.
“The hard part is one division is extremely strong and teams missing the playoffs could be getting 100 points or something and missing the playoffs,” Brunette said.
In the end it’s going to make conference games that much more meaningful.
“Would be really neat if they back-swung those games for the second half of the year,” Brunette stated. “I think that would be real exciting for hockey to be watching those games if you play your division all through February and March.”
The players believe going to each city every year is good for the league and less overall travel will be good for the Hawks. Brunette pointed out how badly the Minnesota fans wanted back in with Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit as they once were when they were the North Stars. Both the old Minnesota team (Stars) and the new one (Wild) will be part of the conference so new rivalries with old acquaintances are bound to be resurrected.