As an inveterate pessimist, I am willing to go on record saying that the realignment plan is the best thing that will happen to the Capitals this season. I will present its benefits in list form:
1. We will no longer see the Panthers or the Lightning 6 times a season.
2. We will see the Penguins, the Flyers, and the Rangers 5 times a season, all of whom we have a certain amount of bad blood with. And though we don’t have a feud with the Devils, they’re still a fun team to watch.
3. We will no longer see the Panthers or the Lightning 6 times a season.
4. We will only have to fly to Winnipeg one time (this goes for every team in the Western Conference, but the most immediate benefit will be the removal of the Jets from the “South” “East” division).
5. On a personal note, we are now in the same division as the Blue Jackets! Not only do I have an unalloyed affection for Columbus, but that’s also a handful of guaranteed points every season.
6. We will no longer see the Panthers or the Lightning 6 times a season.
You may have noticed that I do not like the Florida teams. In fact, “do not like” is too strong a phrase to describe how I feel about them. I don’t really feel about them at all. Watching the Caps play the Panthers is like watching reruns of Friends — could be worse, but surely there’s got to be something better on TV. Like an AHL game. The Lightning at least have some intensely exciting players, like Steven Stamkos, or Victor Hedman, or Vincent Lecavalier, or Martin St. Louis. The strongest feeling I get watching a Panthers game is pity for Tomas Fleischmann.
It’s a shame, because it feels like a squandered opportunity. Wouldn’t it have been fabulous to have a real, choleric rivalry with someone we play so often? The periods of dominance for these teams have never really overlapped. When the Lightning were good, the Caps were awful; when the Panthers were good, the Caps were awful; when the Caps were good, the Lightning and Panthers were awful. Now it seems like they’re all more or less awful, which doesn’t make for compelling stuff either. (And really, this all works out for the best for Florida and Tampa, because what the retired Canadians down south really want is to see their beloved Northeast teams again, which the realignment facilitates.)
The NHLPA has agreed to give realignment a chance for at least 3 seasons, through 2015-16, but there is still one major issue to be settled: division names. Do we want to bring back Patrick, Norris, Smith, and Adams? Or is that past too remote from the modern NHL? On the other hand, anything more recent might be too political (especially considering how vicious and divisive) the NHL is now, so perhaps geographic names would be best: Pacific, Midwest, Atlantic, and Flornada.