With the work on a finalized CBA fading to the background and in the purview of the lawyers, the NHL and NHLPA are shifting their efforts toward completing a realignment effort started back in December of 2011, and a vote from the board of governors could come surprisingly soon.
The Dallas Stars have long been some of the league's biggest proponents of realigning, playing their division games two time zones away and being closer geographically to half a dozen teams in the East than they are to San Jose.
Potentially reduced travel is a benefit for the Stars, but earlier start times on television and more traditional rivalries, particularly in light of the team's soon-to-expire-contract with Fox Sports Southwest, are big items at stake as well.
In their last full season (2011-2012) the Dallas Stars had 18 road games starting at 8:00pm or later, most of which were in the 9:00 hour. That number would be drastically reduced, as an 82 game schedule would likely allow Dallas only a single trip to the Anaheims and Vancouvers of the world, though variation would exist from year to year, because such a schedule won't balance nicely.
What is certain is that every NHL team would visit the American Airlines Center at least once a season, and an increased number of games against Detroit and Chicago would boost attendance.
Here are the proposed "conferences" from the league's December 2011 discussions ultimately rejected by the NHLPA ahead of the impending labor negotiations...
|Conference A||Conference B||Conference C||Conference D|
|Colorado||Dallas||Florida||New York Islanders|
|Edmonton||Detroit||Montreal||New York Rangers|
|San Jose||St. Louis||Toronto||Washington|
The issues here for the players association seem to be that the "Western Conference", if indeed there were such a thing under this proposal, would consist of two divisions containing eight teams, while the Eastern Conference would contain just 14 teams total in its divisions.
The previously proposed playoff format had four teams from each division qualifying, meaning that the likelihood of making the tournament in the smaller C and D Conferences would be much higher.
Under the original idea, the top four teams in each conference would face each other in two rounds of playoffs until four conference champions were crowned, though there's concern that this will cause an extremely repetitive first two rounds ever year.
Bill Daly (remember hearing from him all the time?) has indicated that there have been tweaks made to the original 2011 proposal, and media have speculated that it could indicate changes to the proposed playoff system, as well as swapping a team here or there.
Chiefly unhappy in December 2011 were the Tampa Bay Lightning, owing to a lot of travel to the North East. In order to put them back with Washington and Carolina, however, someone out of NYR, NYI, PIT, NJD and PHI would have to lose traditional rivals in the swap.
Meanwhile the Blue Jackets are still hoping there's a way to be put in the East, but it seems far-fetched.
Dallas appears unlikely to be one of the teams swapped, as they play division games two time zones away.
"Listen, there will always be issues no matter what," Stars' President Jim Lites told ESPN. "But what you can't do is put your head in the sand about the Dallas Stars playing in a division that is two time zones away and the Detroit Red Wings playing playoff series every year against teams three time zones away. You have to address those issues, they're anti-competitive."
The tweaked proposal could be voted on as early as late February, giving Stars fans time to enjoy the official Pacific-Division farewell tour, though it appears well under way no matter how realignment unfolds.