Winners and losers of NHL's reported realignment plan
The NHL has reportedly established a tentative plan for realigning its divisions for the 2020-21 season, and while some teams' playoff chances would clearly improve under the proposed format, other clubs could be in for a more difficult campaign.
It goes without saying that a 56-game schedule would mean fewer contests in general, but some teams will certainly feel a difference in the quality of their foes.
Assuming realignment follows the reported structure, here are five franchises that will be better served under the plan and five squads that won't be:
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are the obvious winners here. The defending Stanley Cup champions get to play their toughest Atlantic Division foes less than they do in a typical campaign, and they're primed to steamroll the competition in a group that includes the depleted Chicago Blackhawks along with the mediocre Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild.
Throw in a couple of familiar, beatable Atlantic opponents in the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers, and the Lightning could very easily cruise to the NHL's best record.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Much like the Lightning, the Maple Leafs won't have to face their most dangerous Atlantic opponents as frequently in this scenario. There will be more western travel for Toronto in an all-Canadian division, but that will be offset by fewer matchups against both the reigning champs and the defending Presidents' Trophy winners.
The Stars are one of three Central Division contenders who will be better off under this realignment structure.
Instead of their usual grind against a group of physically imposing or offensively talented rivals, the 2020 Stanley Cup finalists will get more games against the worst Pacific clubs - the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks - while sharing their new division with only two of their Central counterparts.
It's a similar story for the Avalanche. Colorado will still have to deal with a couple of its best divisional adversaries on a regular basis, but it won't play the Central's other four clubs - all of which are at least moderately competitive - as often as usual.
The Avalanche are looking to finally break through and compete for the Stanley Cup as many expect them to do; having an easier path in the regular season should help them come playoff time.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues need to bounce back after following up their championship season with a first-round exit this past August, and a resurgence is more likely under this realignment. St. Louis will still routinely face the Stars and Avalanche, but playing the dregs of the Pacific instead of all six Central opponents will help the Blues get back on track.
It was a disappointing 2019-20 campaign for the Bruins, but Boston could be in for more difficult times under this plan. While they won't have to contend with the Lightning and Maple Leafs as much, they'll still be inserted into the toughest of the four new divisions.
The proposed realignment will see Boston grouped with three Metropolitan powers in the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins, another solid Metro club in the New York Islanders, and a team on the rise in the New York Rangers. Not to mention the next squad on this list.
The Sabres won't have the benefit of regularly facing the weaker Atlantic Division teams they're used to seeing. Instead, they'll join the Bruins in the league's most formidable group.
That will be a tough break for Buffalo, especially after the offseason additions of Taylor Hall and Eric Staal. While the placement is ideal from a travel perspective, six of the Sabres' seven divisional opponents will likely be contenders, which could set them up for a major letdown after such a promising September and October.
The Coyotes won't be the only Pacific Division team tasked with more battles against new rivals from the Central. But unlike the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks, Arizona is a borderline playoff-caliber squad; a tougher schedule could see the Coyotes fall out of the postseason picture entirely, particularly after the loss of Hall.
Sure, Arizona will benefit from playing the Pacific's three worst clubs, but it will still have to face the defending Pacific champions - the Vegas Golden Knights - just as often, as well as a trio of Central squads that were largely better in 2019-20 than the three Canadian teams they're replacing.
A move from the Pacific to the new all-Canadian division won't mean a major difference in the quality of competition for the Canucks, but it will be more grueling from a travel perspective.
Vancouver - the NHL's western-most team - will have to regularly fly to Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba in addition to its familiar destinations in Alberta. The reverse is true for the Maple Leafs, Senators, Canadiens, and Jets, but those four teams are more centrally located; the other three Canadian squads will all be worse off - most notably the club on the Pacific coast.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils don't appear ready to contend, but any hopes of taking a noticeable step forward in 2020-21 will be all but dashed by this realignment. Not only will New Jersey find itself grouped with the best of its usual Metropolitan competitors, but it will also have to deal with the Bruins and Sabres in what looks to be an unforgiving division.
Continually playing the Capitals, Flyers, Penguins, Islanders, and Rangers is taxing enough already. Throw in one of the best teams in the league and a club that could be vastly improved, and the Devils will likely be at an even worse disadvantage than usual.
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