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|Blues fans come out in force whenever the Red Wings are in St. Louis, which will be less often now.|
OK, so we're not quite ready to resume just yet. Let's enjoy the minute or two that passes for an NHL offseason before rushing back into the fray.
Still, it's never too early to imagine what might come to pass in the coming season. And goodness knows the Olympic orientation camps in late August, as well as rookie and training camps shortly thereafter, will be upon us all too soon.
With that in mind, we thought we would spend the week looking ahead to the 2013-14 season.
Only when the free-agency period started and you began to see how teams were taking shape -- or, rather, reshaping -- did it become clear how different the landscape is going to look with the new four-division, two-conference format.
Specifically, will there be a more difficult division -- at least on paper -- than the one containing the old Northeast Division, plus the Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers thrown in for good measure?
If you assume the Red Wings and Boston Bruins are playoff-worthy, that leaves a mighty tight race for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators -- all three of which were playoff teams this past season and are much improved. And Tampa has to bounce back at some point.
We're also curious about the redrawing of the divisions along more geographic lines and whether that will give teams some breaks, not only in terms of travel but also in increased interest in markets such as Columbus and Dallas, where fans won't face as many out-of-time-zone games moving forward.
Will that result in a television ratings spike? Better attendance at home with more geographically friendly rivals? Will teams such as the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, whose home games against Detroit always packed a little different punch, miss the Red Wings?
And will the fact there are 16 teams jammed into the two Eastern divisions create a pronounced difference in quality of postseason races -- and as a result, the quality of playoff teams -- compared to the less densely populated Western divisions, where 14 teams will be competing for the eight playoff spots?
There is no perfect way to align a 30-team league (hence the ongoing discussions about the potential for a two-team expansion), and on paper this looks like as good a model as any. We're about to find out what it's like for real.