Exactly a year ago, we took a look at the NHL off-season in 2012. At that time, we were optimistic about that NHL owners and players reaching a new collective bargaining agreement, the Los Angeles Kings had recently won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the Philadelphia Flyers had just offered Shea Webber a 14-year contract worth more than $100 million (before the Predators had matched it).
A year later and we’re looking at the Chicago Blackhawks as your reigning Stanley Cup Champions, a realignment of the 30 teams with the creation of the Metropolitan Division and elimination of the Northwest, Southeast, and Northeast Divisions, more outdoor hockey games, and a regular season that will start October 1, 2013. Due to the 2014 Winter Olympics, the 2013-2014 NHL Schedule will not include an All-Star Game.
The most notable difference between the Conferences is the number of teams – the Eastern Conference has two more teams than the Western Conference. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets made the jump from the West to the East; the Winnipeg Jets switched from the East to the West. With four Divisions instead of six, the NHL realignment means an updated playoff berth format. The top three teams in each division will secure a spot in the postseason with the additional two spots for wild cards in each conference. The NHL teams in the Western Conference will have statistically better odds at qualifying for the NHL Playoffs (which begin April 16) as the Conference boasts 14 teams instead of 16. Is there room for expansion? The addition of Seattle (Pacific) with Houston or Kansas City (Central) would even the Conferences at 16 teams each. With a couple of exceptions, the realignment’s purpose of reducing travel and geographically mapping divisions so that teams were in the same time-zones was accomplished.
Due to the NHL lockout, the previously scheduled 2013 NHL Winter Classic will be played this year instead. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, back in the same Division, will battle on New Year’s Day outside at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The sixth annual event has led the expansion of outdoor play. This season, a total of six outdoor games will be played; the 2014 NHL Winter Classic is the first and a record crowd is expected at the Big House. The NHL Stadium Series starts at Dodger Stadium which will host the Freeway Face-Off between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on January 25. A special ice making system will help to keep the ice from melting even on a warm winter day in Southern California. The following evening Yankee Stadium hosts the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers in the Battle of the Hudson River. The baseball venue will also be the sight for the New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers Battle of New York game three nights later. A fourth outdoor hockey game will be played in Chicago at Soldier Field March 1 between Stanley Cup Champs Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The final outdoor match between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators for the Heritage Classic will be played March 2 at BC Place.
“The other side of it is I think it’s going to create strong and bigger rivalries. With teams like Detroit and Toronto in the same division, the same conference, it’s just a positive for the National Hockey League.” – Wayne Gretzky
New rivalries will develop with the NHL realignment while old ones will remain intact. Every NHL team will play each of the other 29 venues every year. Four of the Original Six teams are now in the Atlantic Division – Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maples Leafs – which should make past-time rivalries come to life once again. Detroit’s move to the East and into the Atlantic Division means Daniel Alfredsson will play his former team the Ottawa Senators, more frequently. Their first meeting will take place October 23 in Detroit with a homecoming set for December 1. The Winnipeg Jets move from the Southeast Division to the Central Division should allow for some new geographical rivalries.
On the East, must-see games include:
- October 1: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals: Rising of Stanley Cup Banner. Ironically a year ago, the Blackhawks watched as the Los Angeles Kings raised their own banner in Staples Center.
- October 30: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins: Eastern Conference Finals Rematch. On a personal level, this will be a big game for free-agent forward and former Penguin Jarome Iginla who recently signed a one-year deal with the Boston Bruins. It will be the first time Iginla will face his former team. The longtime Flames captain will visit his other former team in Calgary December 10.
- November 7: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. New York Rangers: Return of Rick Nash. Perhaps a not-so-welcome homecoming is in NYR right winger Rick Nash future. The matchup might be the beginnings of a new division rivalry.
Aside from Detroit’s move to the East weakening the rivalry with Chicago, most of the West rivalries remained unbroken. Our must-see West games include:
- November 16: Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers: Battle of Alberta. This intense rivalry between the two major Canadian cities has Calgary winning the regular season and Edmonton winning the postseason record.
- December 15: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings: Western Conference Finals Rematch. The past two Stanley Cup Champions will meet for the first time since the Kings lost the Conference Finals to the President’s Trophy winner Hawks.
- January 13: Winnipeg Jets vs. Phoenix Coyotes: Former Jets vs. Current Jets. New and old Jets fans can enjoy this one. Now that Winnipeg is in the West, will we see a new Conference rivalry emerge?
Last season we only got to see Conference games due to the shortened season. In 2013-2014 there are a few inter-conference matches that standout on the NHL schedule due to off-season acquisitions:
- October 8: Vancouver Canucks vs. New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider vs. Roberto Luongo. The former Canucks goalies could battle it out just one week into the season at Rogers Arena. The game is Schneider’s first since leaving BC following the goalie controversy.
- October 13: Anaheim Ducks vs. Ottawa Senators: Bobby Ryan Return to California. After playing five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, Bobby Ryan was acquired by the Ottawa Senators. Ryan will face his former team first in California on October 13 and then at Canadian Tire Centre 12 days later.
- November 5: Boston Bruins vs. Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin Homecoming. In perhaps the biggest trade this off-season, the Boston Bruins sent what some thought to be the future of the franchise, Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. When the two teams meet in Boston, Seguin will have a place in the opposite box.
- January 19: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins: Stanley Cup Finals Rematch. The two storied programs will meet for the first time since the SCF in Chicago. At the end of March, the Chicago Blackhawks will visit the Bruins at TD Garden.
- March 20: New Jersey Devils vs. Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise Return. Just days prior to the later of the two Bruins-Blackhawks games, Zach Parise and the Minnesota Wild will take on the New Jersey Devils. The Wild vs. Devils game will be Parise first at the Prudential Center since signing his most recent contract.
Photo Credit: blog.svconline.com
Chart Credit: Greg Wyshynkski (Puck Daddy)
Photo Credit (2): Getty Images