‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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The new NHL realignment brings a shakeup to a stale two-conference system where the eight best teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences qualified for the playoffs.  In 2012-13, those days will be over.

Now there will be four conferences of seven or eight teams that will battle for four playoff spots.  The new yet-to-be-named conference featuring the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes definitely has an ‘old school Patrick Division feel.’

When I was introduced to hockey in the early 1990’s, I had a particular dislike for the Washington Capitals.  My close friends and I were fans of the Rangers, Devils, Flyers and Islanders enjoyed labeling Washington as the team we all agreed to dislike.  There’s always been a natural rivalry between the Capitals and most of the current Atlantic Division teams even after they moved to the Southeast Division in 1998.

The new alignment is something that I’m genuinely looking forward to as there will be more Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby match-ups.  With the Hurricanes added to the division, we’ll get to see Eric Staal playing frequently against his brothers Marc of the Rangers and Jordan of the Penguins.

These rivalries will be more important than ever as the top four teams in each conference will be battling each other for positions that will directly impact their first round playoff match-ups.  How do first round clashes featuring Rangers-Capitals and Penguins-Flyers or Penguins-Capitals and Devils-Flyers sound to you?  Pretty interesting, eh?

The first two rounds will strictly be in-conference rounds for example: The Rangers defeat the Penguins in round one to face the winner of the Capitals and Flyers in the second round.  What comes next in the semifinal and final rounds will be decided when the General Managers meetings take place in March.

I find this part most intriguing of all.  It would be great to see the remaining teams drawn out of a bowl by a former Stanley Cup captain as fans and players watch on the edge of their seats to see their path into the Stanley Cup Finals.  This would add a different flavor to every Stanley Cup as one year we could witness the Boston Bruins facing the Penguins or see the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers meet in an ‘Original Six Stanley Cup Final.’

Fans of an older generation had the opportunity to witness the Islanders and Flyers in the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals and the Canadiens and Rangers a year earlier.  A lottery system would allow hockey to re-connect with its past and also provide the opportunity to create first-time Stanley Cup opponents that were never possible before.

The new realignment will bring exciting changes for hockey fans and breathe new life into the NHL, separating it from the MLB, NFL and NBA.  Especially if they can take advantage of the four-conference system by introducing a European style draw to add spice to the Stanley Cup.

What do you make of the new NHL alignment changes and proposed lottery system for the final two playoff rounds?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

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