April 2, 2013

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Why NHL Realignment Makes Sense

By: Tyler Vespa

With the NHL realignment approved for next season, the league will now feature four divisions instead of six. These would be the Midwest, the Pacific, the Central and the Atlantic. The Midwest and Pacific divisions would makeup the Western Conference, while the Central and the Atlantic divisions would make up the Eastern Conference. The Central and Atlantic divisions will have 8 teams each, while the Pacific and the Midwest will each have 7 teams.

The Red Wings will say goodbye to the Western Conference and move to the East nest season.

Here is what the NHL will look like next season:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Midwest

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets

Pacific

Anaheim Ducks

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Los Angeles Kings

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Central

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Detroit Red Wings

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Atlantic

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

The playoffs will still feature 16 teams, eight from each conference, but will not be division based with a new wild-card feature. The top 3 teams from each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs The final 4 places will be filled in by the next two highest placed teams in each conference, and will be based on regular season points, regardless of their division. This means one division could send 5 teams while another could only send three.

Regular season points will also determine the seeding of the teams. Meaning, the division winner with the most points will play the wild card team with the least points, and so forth.

This plan is exactly what the league needed after two lockouts in the past 8 seasons. Something needed to change. As you can see the only two teams changing conferences will be the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit has been crying for this move for years.

With that I give you 4 reasons this plan for realignment is a win-win for the league and everybody associated with it:

Geographic simplicity: We will see fewer issues with time zones and travel. Teams in the same conference will enjoy easier travel simply because they are now crossing over fewer time zones.

More Original 6 matchups: Detroit is now in the same division with 3 other teams from the Original 6: Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Also, the Red Wings and the New York Rangers are in the same conference.

New Playoff Format: With the imbalance of teams in each division, there is talk of a “Wild Card Format” being added to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This could mean a play-in game where two teams play one game to become the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Another win or go home game would be genius.

Dream for Television: The Eastern Conference would have a rivalry game almost every night. Teams in Canada will get awesome exposure, with a myriad of Canadian vs. Canadian rivalries. New rivalries and big matchups will be made out West such as with the 3 California teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Even more Canadian exposure is bred with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

January 9, 2013

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Four Words for Hockey Fans: The NHL Is Back!

By: Matt Bowen

It may have brought up bad memories or left a bad taste in one’s mouth, but the best news for any hockey fan this New Year is that the NHL is back in session.

The NHL is back!

Just when fans were beginning to accept the thought of missing another season due to a labor dispute, the NHL and NHLPA worked out a deal. Hockey enthusiasts everywhere have not forgotten the locked out 2004-05 season and this time the league got a much needed deal done in the eleventh hour.

So, when does the puck drop?

That’s the beauty of this deal, we don’t really know yet.

What we do know is that the season will be 48 games, teams will report to camp no later than Sunday, January 13, and that the regular season will most likely begin within a week from then.

So, as gut wrenching as it was to miss months of NHL hockey already, instant gratification takes place with games beginning seemingly overnight thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA’s biggest perk is certainly the 10-year deal with an opt-out clause after eight years.

This is what the league needed most—to guarantee its fans that the game can gain momentum after its latest hiccup. The NHL has officially done that and the sky is now the limit.

While there may be plenty of jilted fans at the moment, as soon as the lamp is lit smiles will overcome those who currently frown.

What’s not to love about NHL action?

At this point, a 48-game season is perfect. There will be a league-wide competitive (dis)advantage with the lack of preseason play.  The teams that gel together the fastest will find themselves in the playoffs.  Rookies will have a true trial-by-fire. No team can afford a losing streak of more than three games.

So, who are the teams to keep an eye on this season?

The Minnesota Wild and their fans have been waiting for this moment since last summer when they landed free agent stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The passion for hockey runs thick in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and the buzz surrounding the Wild right now has reached a fever pitch.

Another team to expect big things from is the Edmonton Oilers. After having the No. 1 overall draft pick three-straight seasons, the shortened season could be a blessing to the franchise looking for prominence. The trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle will look to get off to a fast start and reach the playoffs. With so much young talent on the Oilers it’s only a matter of time before the team is the most feared in the entire NHL.

One NHL team to fear right now is the New York Rangers. They are built to win now and the addition of superstar Rick Nash in the offseason only bolsters their chances for a Stanley Cup.  With Henrik Lunqvist between the pipes, captain Ryan Callahan, sharp shooter Marian Hossa, and all-world talent Brad Richards to accompany Nash, anything short of a Cup in 2013 will be considered a failure.

Hockey fans get ready—the season will be here in the blink of an eye.  True NHL action is what we’ve been waiting for and the league will definitely deliver.

February 8, 2012

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NHL Takes Center Stage with Hockey Day in Canada

By: Matt Bowen

Hockey Day in Canada is celebrating its 12th anniversary on February 11 as the entire country of Canada dedicates a holiday to its favorite pastime. This year the province of Prince Edward Island will be on display as their culture and love for the game will be shown to the world.

Hockey Day in Canada also means that all seven Canadian NHL teams will be in action throughout the day on CBC. With the NHL gaining momentum this season, HDIC is a great chance for hockey fans in the United States to check out every team north of the border. There are only around 30 games remaining for each team and this season’s playoff races promise to go down to the wire.

Here are some players to pay special attention to during Hockey Day in Canada:

Edmonton Oilers vs. Ottawa Senators:

The Oilers are absolutely loaded with young talent and they have a chance to dominate the entire NHL after they get some experience under their belt. Led by Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers are set with top-notch talent for the next decade.

Taylor Hall is one of the many up-and-comers on the Oilers.

Let’s not forget the sudden emergence of 22-year-old Sam Gagner, who’s put up ridiculous numbers since the All-Star Game. Although the Oilers are most likely out of the playoff hunt this year, they are a blast to watch and the future of hockey.

The Senators are holding onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the moment and should be commended for coming out of nowhere this season. Much of their success this season stems from the play of young defenseman Erik Karlsson.  He leads NHL defenseman in points thus far and is the prototype for the new-age NHL defenseman. His skating is impeccable and he can flat-out score. Expect to hear Karlsson’s name for years to come.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins:

Hockey is back in Winnipeg and life is good in Peg City. Led by captain Andrew Ladd, the Jets are in contention for a playoff spot. Just the fact that the NHL is back in the city is good enough for the Jets faithful at the moment.

The team has an up-and-coming superstar in 20-year-old Evander Kane, who unfortunately will have to miss Hockey Day in Canada due to a concussion. Be sure to keep your eye on Kane as he rises to stardom.

If the Jets pick up a scoring threat before the February 27 NHL trade deadline they have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs.

Montreal Canadians vs. Toronto Maple Leafs:

The Canadians may be the most storied team in NHL history, but they’re having a down year. Their opposition during Hockey Day in Canada, the Maple Leafs, are looking good and are in the thick of the playoff push.

Putting records aside, the upcoming match between the bitter rivals will be hockey at its finest. The Canadians will depend on goaltender Carey Price to work his magic against Toronto’s Phil Kessel and company. Carey is one of the league’s best net minders while Kessel is a pure goal-scorer.

No love will be lost when these two Original Six squads take the ice.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames:

In the nightcap of Hockey Day in Canada, the Canucks and Flames square-off at the Saddle Dome.

It’s no surprise that the Canucks are near the top of the Western conference after their Stanley Cup run last season. Although they came up just short of the ultimate goal, Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin along with Ryan Kesler are still on the top of their game.

Watching the Sedin twins play is like watching poetry in motion. These guys can’t play forever, so catch them while you can.

As for the Flames, famed captain Jerome Iginla is trying to rally the troops at the moment and sneak into the playoffs. The team is currently on the outside looking in, but with a solid finish the Flames will make the playoffs.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has now started the most games for a goalie in Flames history with 527 and will have to play out of his mind during the stretch if the team is to make the playoffs. Kiprusoff is dazzling between the pipes and a joy to watch. He’s currently sitting on 299 career victories and with a little luck he could celebrate No. 300 at home during HDIC.

The showdown in Cow Town will be the perfect ending to Hockey Day in Canada.