NHL realignment: Columbus Blue Jackets to become our new whipping boys?

Christopher Pasatieri

Under the NHL's new realignment proposal, the Columbus Blue Jackets would join the Flyers' division.

Back in late 2011, the NHL's planned realignment leaked. It was a radical change from the current system: A switch from the six-division, two-conference format to a "four conference" format that would reunite the old Patrick Division, plus the hated Carolina Hurricanes.

We loved the plan for a million different reasons -- the Patrick Division was great, we'd lose none of our rivalries, the Flyers would play in every single city every year, every other team would visit Philadelphia every single year, the new playoff format was awesome, and we wouldn't have to deal with the Red Wings on our side of the table.

The NHLPA fought the league on the original proposal, leading to an announcement in the first week of 2012 that the plan would not go through for the 2012-13 season as originally hoped. Many saw this as the first salvo in CBA talks (which, you know, led to a lockout) but now that the new CBA is in place, realignment is back on the table for the fall.

As leaked on CBC this past Saturday night, it's basically the same plan with a few slight tweaks. The Flyers will be in a division with the same teams as before: the old Patrick Division reunites with the Flyers, Penguins, Rangers, Devils, Islanders and Capitals, and the Hurricanes join the fun.

But let's add another team for good measure: the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Here's the full breakdown:

Conference 1 (us): Philadelphia, Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Pittsburgh, Washington.

Conference 2: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.

Conference 3: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg.

Conference 4: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver.

Nhl-realignment_medium

THE CHANGES

The tweaks from the previous plan are simple: Columbus and Detroit were in that yellow conference previously. Now, they've moved to the green conference and the blue conference, respectively. These are the only changes from the previous plan to the current plan, but it obviously impacts the Flyers as they gain a new conference foe.

THE SCHEDULE

Since the Flyers are in an eight-team conference, they'd play each of their conference foes either six times or five times per year, with opponents rotating between five and six each season. We'd play each of the other teams in the league twice a piece -- once at home, once on the road. So even though Detroit is "moving East," it doesn't mean they'll play the Flyers any more than they would have under the previous proposal.

THE PLAYOFFS

We hope intra-conference playoffs remain, with the top four seeds facing off in rounds one and two before moving on to the final two playoff rounds. The four "conference champions" would then re-seed, meaning we could have a Flyers vs. Bruins Stanley Cup Final again.

Of course, in an eight-team conference vs. a seven-team conference, it's a little harder to qualify for the playoffs, but I'd bet good money on the imbalance leading to two extra teams in the league before long.

And as CBC reported over the weekend, the league is thinking about adding some sort of "wild card" system where there'd be an MLB-style play-in game/series between the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in each eight-team conference as long as the imbalance exists. That could be a lot of fun.

***

The only big change for us here is the Columbus switch and the potential playoff format alteration. As fun as it will be to have the Blue Jackets to whip on for the next several years, the truth is that this realignment could impact their franchise trajectory more than anything -- for the better.

They finally get to play the majority of their games in their own time zone, they'll get the opportunity to build a close regional rivalry with the Penguins (and hey, I guess the Flyers too) and with a new general manager and a ton of draft picks on hand, they could become a relevant team in the league sooner than later.

What do you think of the new plan and how it impacts the Flyers?

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