Before the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, the league went through its most drastic realignment since the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences became the East and West.
Slimming down from six divisions to four, the changes also saw the Detroit Red Wing and Columbus Blue Jackets move to the Eastern Conference, while the Winnipeg Jets (forced to stay in the Atlanta Thrashers old spot for two seasons) went West.
Looking back on the season, commissioner Gary Bettman is calling the realignment a success, as he stated during his press conference before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“I think the entire realignment this season has been received overwhelmingly in a positive way, both in terms of the regular season and the teams that got readjusted geographically to not only foster rivalries, but also for when teams are on the road to get games televised at more sensible times,’’ he said.
Previously, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets, who both reside in the Eastern Time Zone, frequently had road games that started at 9 or 10 o’clock at night local time. The Jets also faced the strain of playing most of their games in the Southeast Division, with their closest division rival, the Washington Capitals, a mere 1,250 mile flight away.
The regular season also saw many playoff races go down to the wire, with the Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Capitals, New Jersey Devils, and Ottawa Senators battling for the two Wild Card spots in the East, while in the West the Dallas Stars secured their first playoff berth since 2008 by holding off the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators, both of whom finished within three points of the Stars.
“The regular season was extraordinarily competitive,’’ Bettman said. “I think when we came back from Sochi, if the season had ended on that day, 25 teams were either in the playoffs or within four points of a playoff spot. So competitively the regular season was great.’’
The playoffs also saw a drastic shift from the usual No. 1-8 rankings, with each team being reseeded after the first round. This year, the playoffs mostly began in the divisions, with a bracket-style playoff system similar to the NBA. This system all but ensured that divisional foes, such as the Bruins and Canadiens, would need to get through each other in order to make it to the conference final, leading to more heated matchups earlier in the playoffs.
“These playoffs have been phenomenal,’’ Bettman said. “Over the 14 series, seven have gone seven games; I think four have gone six games, something like that. But it’s just been phenomenal. The rivalries have been great; the excitement, the anticipation, and most importantly the fan and player reaction has been terrific.’’
All in all, Bettman believes that the 2013-14 NHL season was very successful.
“Our objective always was and is to make a great game even greater, to give our fans the best sports experience and entertainment possible, and the best opportunities to connect with our game. The 2013-14 campaign accomplished that objective, for which I thank our broadcast partners, our business partners, our clubs, our players, our staff at the NHL, and most importantly our fans.
“Our plan is to continue to find innovative ways to further increase our game’s growth and momentum. As we anticipate a terrific Final between two outstanding conference champions, they represent two passionate sports markets. I’m as excited as I hope all of you are.’’