The NHLPA has approved the proposed re-alignment for the 2014-2015 season. The NHL will discuss it again and there will be an update on the actual re-alignment happening. Because there's a good chance it happens, here's a look at how the new Re-Aligned "Atlantic" division will impact the Devils
To be honest, I don't like the re-alignment for a few reasons. The first reason is the obvious- uneven conferences and divisions. The west has 14 teams, while the east has 16 teams. The second is now the playoff format makes it harder to get in. Instead of trying to compete for 8 spots, the proposed format now only has teams in each division fight for 4 playoff spots. Of course, unless the BoG decides that it's stupid (which it is) and they go back to the 6 division-2 conference system which worked instead of this 4 division stupidity.
With all that being said, the Devils are going to have to deal with it. Here's how re-alignment will affect them.
If there's one thing that's favourable for the Devils, it's the fact that they still have a relatively easy travel schedule with the realignment. The big travel includes the trips to Carolina and Columbus, but other than that it's relatively minimal travel with the tri-state rivals (our hated rivals and the Isles), our second rate rivals in south Jersey and the Capitals in nearby DC. The possibility of road trips between Pittsburgh and Columbus should help. Assuming there's less inter-divisional/conference play, travel won't be an issue.
The Atlantic is still a tough division- Pittsburgh still has two of the best hockey players in the world. The Flyers are deadly when Claude Giroux appears. The Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist. The Isles are still relatively annoying and they have John Tavares, who is very good at hockey. The good news is that the three newcomers aren't the best teams in the NHL. However, we can't look the gift horse in the mouth right about now.
Of the three new teams in the Devils' divisions, I'll say that the Hurricanes are the best of them. They're a good puck possession team with a solid offense, assuming they decide to re-sign Alexander Semin. They have several young pieces in place like Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner and the surprising breakout of Jiri Tlusty. Their weakness is their goaltending- Cam Ward is only an average goaltender, but he's often good enough for the Hurricanes to win (see Fleury, Marc-Andre, Bryzgalov, Ilya). If there's one thing i'm going to hate about realignment, it's that the Devils have to play the Hurricanes a lot more.
The Capitals are the wildcard here. They've been awful for the first few months of Adam Oates' tenure, but they could be turning a corner sometime soon. Alex Ovechkin is slowly starting to look more like Alex Ovechkin and less like Kyle Wellwood. Their underperforming defensemen like John Carlson and Karl Alzner are slowly beginning to look like a good top pairing. Assuming they're able to get some good secondary scoring (namely a healthy Brooks Laich), they could be a good team. Or they could keep plummeting downwards.
The worst of the newcomers is obviously the Columbus Blue Jackets. They're not a very good team, and if anything, Scott Howson ran them into the ground (seriously, the Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson trade has to be one of the worst trades in recent NHL history. Almost as bad as a Mike Milbury or John Ferguson Jr trade. There are very few ways that Columbus comes out on top in that trade. How Howson had a job for that long was impressive). Sergei Bobrovsky has been better than Sieve Mason has been over the last few years, but then again, a shooter tutor would've given up less goals than Mason. The Jackets are a mess right now. James Wisnewski is their best player. Yes, that James Wisnewski. And when James Wisnewski is your best player, you have serious problems because he's not that good. The Jackets could get better now that they have a more competent GM in Jarmo Kekelainen, but if I was a Blue Jackets fan I'd be cautiously optimistic. Or incredibly cynical.
There's one downside to having an 8 team division- less rivalry buildup. The Devils-Rangers rivalry is one of the best in the NHL. The Flyers and Penguins are still relatively solid rivals. Heck, you could even add the Hurricanes in as one of the Devils rivals too (seeing as none of us like them). More rivals means less rivalry games, instead of 6 games against the Rangers, they'll likely have two less games against them and two more games against Columbus. Um... yay? Some rivalries like Devils-Canes might be intensified by the importance of divisional games, but at the cost of reducing the amount of excellent rivalry games like Devils-Rangers.
I've touched on this before- it's going to be harder to get in because there's a smaller window for success. The Rangers, Penguins and Hurricanes are likely going to be a lock for the playoffs. The Islanders (ownership problems) and Blue Jackets (terrible) means that they aren't going to be competing any time soon. So essentially, there will be a dogfight for the final playoff spot between the Devils, Capitals and Flyers. Again, re-alignment isn't great for the chances of our team making the playoffs.
With all that being said, what do you think of the proposed re-alignment? Do you think it's going to be good or bad for the Devils. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments