There are some significant changes in store for the NHL next season as the board of governors officially approved the proposed realignment on Thursday. It is scheduled to run through the 2015-16 season with a review due after 2014-15. Instead of six divisions, there will be four. Detroit and Columbus will come to the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will switch to the Western Conference. Future divisionmates (they haven’t named the new divisions yet) were on display at TD Garden on Thursday night with the Boston Bruins hosting the Florida Panthers.
Boston’s current Northeast Division foes Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Buffalo will all be joined by Detroit, Tampa Bay and Florida. On the surface, it’s an eclectic group that spans from Canada to the Sunshine State. For the B’s, the tantalizing part is that they will be playing the Red Wings on a much more regular basis. They are two of the NHL’s Original 6 rivals who usually only play once or twice a year (none this season since teams only play within their own conference). The Lightning (11-14-1) are a mess this season but as long as they have Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s most explosive goal-scorer, they’re worth tuning in for.
Other than the snowbirds from New England in Florida (of which there are plenty), there probably won’t be many people excited about more Panthers-Bruins tilts. Right now, Florida (7-14-6 entering tonight) is the worst team in the NHL due partly to a slew of injuries to veteran players. The Panthers were in the playoffs last season so they’re not hopeless. Still, they always struggle to draw fans to the BB&T Center so having some of the most popular teams in the NHL - Boston, Montreal, Toronto and Detroit - should only help at the gate. If nothing else, the Northeast Division teams and some dedicated fans will enjoy getting out of the snow and bleak winters to enjoy some rays just like the Bruins did a few weeks ago while Boston was hit with another snowstorm.
For the league, these moves make sense since despite there being an unbalanced amount of teams (16 in the East, 14 in the West), all the squads that reside in the same time zones will be together. Not that you noticed but Dallas and Winnipeg had been getting screwed in that regard. The best part is that the Bruins are guaranteed to play at a home-and-home with every other team in the NHL. This lockout shortened season has shown how much is lacking when you are forced to play only the teams in your conference. You can only take so many Bruins-Islanders, Bruins-Jets and Bruins-Panthers games before you lose your mind and yearn for more competitive and meaningful action.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate