Though the NHL approved the plan all the way back in December 2018, not long after accepting Seattle’s expansion bid, it has been a long time since realignment plans have been reiterated. In fact, since the last update on the league’s post-expansion structure, there was a complete overall of the league’s conferences and divisions for the 2020-21 season.
However, everything will return to normal next year with the unchanged Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions making up the Eastern Conference and finally an equal 16 teams in the Western Conference with the Central and Pacific Divisions. Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed today that the plan remains for the only team to move to be the Arizona Coyotes.
Although Phoenix is more closely located to four Pacific cities than any Central cities, it is also closer to those Central cities than any other Pacific city, including newcomer Seattle. The Coyotes may be the odd man out, but a change of scenery can’t hurt for a team that has struggled to make the playoffs out of the Pacific for the better part of a decade.
- When the NHL announced a number of events for the 2021-22 season earlier today, there were a couple of curious absences. The league revealed a Stadium Series game in Nashville and that All-Star Weekend will belong to Vegas, thereby skipping over the hosts for those canceled 2020-21 events. The Carolina Hurricanes were set to host an outdoor game this year, but now have no such event planned. However, Bettman did specifically mention that Raleigh will get it’s Stadium Series (or perhaps Winter Classic) game in the near future. There is not as much clarity for the Florida Panthers. The 2021 All-Star Game was supposed to take place in Sunrise, but now it will be on the other side of the country and there has been no explanation by the league as to why nor as to future plans for the Panthers to host. George Richards of Florida Hockey Now surmises that the potential for the All-Star Game to lead into the Olympic break, if the NHL attends, made a move west, where flights to China would be far shorter than from Florida, a sensible move. However, he also notes that Florida team president Matt Caldwell was certain the All-Star game would belong to the Panthers, so there is some confusion. In all likelihood, Florida will play host to the All-Star game in the near future, just as Carolina will host an outdoor game, but until there is an official announcement that is only speculation.
- Another surprise reveal this evening is that NBC’s contract with the NHL will officially come to an end following the Stanley Cup Final. The network was expected to host the NHL Entry Draft, if not also the NHL Expansion Draft, later this month. However, ESPN has now been announced as the host of both. TSN’s Bob McKenzie, an NBC contributor, notes that this has less to do with the new television rights agreement and more to do with unfortunate timing. McKenzie believes that NBC informed the NHL well before the new TV deal that they would be unable to host the Entry Draft due to conflicts with the Summer Olympics. As a result, ESPN will begin its NHL coverage with two major events in the span of just three days – the Expansion Draft on Wednesday, July 21 and the first round of the Entry Draft on Friday, July 23. Although, McKenzie believes they will use the Sportsnet feed for the latter, if not both. With Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and most recently Chris Chelios joining ESPN, the network will have more than enough talent to start producing their own material sooner rather than later.