By Brent Glass
The NHL’s 2013-14 season is roughly ten games in and the newly-aligned conferences and divisions have changed the status quo. Since the lock-out of the 2004-05 hockey season, the NHL has been trying to make the sport “more exciting,” much to the chagrin of many fans who believed it was perfect the way it was. Some of these changes were implemented through nixing rules, such as the two-line pass restriction, or through changing the ice and players’ equipment – such as adding the trapezoid behind the net and restricting the size goaltenders’ pads, respectively. The latest attempt to boost viewership came in the guise of organizing hockey like other sports – in this case, baseball. (I mean, why not take cues from the other sport that struggled with viewership for quite some time?) It has yielded some interesting and not-so-interesting results.
There are four divisions in the NHL this year, compared to the six hockey fans have become accustomed to. Each division will produce three playoff-bound teams and each conference will allow an additional two wild-card admissions, totaling 16 playoff teams – the normal number for the NHL.
The heavy-hitting Atlantic Division has had many interesting stories. First, the Toronto Maple Leafs (TML). The TML have a storied franchise (13 Stanley Cups) but have struggled in recent years. Before last postseason, the TML were absent from the Stanley Cup-chase for quite a few years; really ever since elite-goaltender Ed Belfour retired. However, the tides have changed; at least it looks that way right now. The Leafs are sitting pretty atop the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. With a record of 7-3-0, the Leafs are poised to have their best season in over a decade. This is exciting for me since Toronto has always been my second favorite team. However, nipping at their heels, is the pestilent Detroit Red Wings (my favorite team).
Not surprisingly, the Red Wings seem to have adapted to the realignment in stride. After getting moved to an entirely different conference, some believed the Red Wings would falter. However, the indomitable GM Ken Holland ensured the success of Detroit with summer acquisitions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. Even after getting schooled last night by the team Alfredsson used to lead (Ottawa Senators), the Red Wings have a 6-4-1 record, good for second in the Atlantic Division.
Kind of a silly division name if you ask me, but that is neither here nor there. Unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves atop the Metropolitan Division. Overall an inferior division to the Atlantic, the real story of the Metropolitan is the struggle some clubs have been facing. Most notably, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in an abysmal 8th place with a 1-7-0 record. A hockey stronghold in recent years, Philadelphia has found serious issues with their goaltending. No matter what goaltending talent Philadelphia manages to attract to their club, they always seem to hit their career low in the City of Brotherly Love. Another shock to the standings is the 7th place of the New York Rangers. Similar to Philadelphia, the Rangers have become a nuisance on the ice – especially with the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, and Brad Richards – though they have struggled to find any synergy yet this season.
The biggest story in the Central Conference is certainly the Colorado Avalanche. A team which I have always thought has had talent but no execution, the Avalanche have found leadership in their new head coach, Patrick Roy. Roy, a Hall-of-Fame goaltender for Montreal and then Colorado, now finds himself at the helm of his old club. Colorado fans are ecstatic to have him back, as they should be. Roy went 6-0 for his first six games as head coach of a NHL team. Pretty impressive. This new leadership, coupled with the skill of rookies MacKinnon and Landeskog, have put their record at 8-1-0. Behind Colorado are a few clubs the West has become quite familiar with. In second place is the defending Stanley Cup champions, Chicago Blackhawks, and in third, the St. Louis Blues. The Midwest has become a breeding ground for elite hockey clubs.
The Blackhawks are in championship form, per usual. The same group that won the Cup last spring and many of the same players that won it in 2010 are back again for the 2013-14 season. They are looking crisp as usual; and who wouldn’t with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and company? Similarly, the St. Louis Blues look great. They had a solid team last season and improved their chances for a long-overdue championship when they acquired Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Maxim Lapierre, and Keith Aucoin. The Central will be an exciting place for hockey.
A lot of the same in the Pacific. Familiar faces are everywhere and the fight for a playoff berth may be the most difficult in this conference. Enjoying a red-hot start is the San Jose Sharks which boasts an 8-0-1 record, consequently placing them first in the entire league with a goal difference of +24 in just nine games. The Sharks’ physical play, superb goal-tending, and killer power-play make them a force to be reckoned with this season… again. One team that many expect to fair better is the Los Angeles Kings.
Stanley Cup champs just a couple years ago, the Kings are hoping to rekindle the fire that led an eight seed to the big dance. Thus far LA is 6-4-0, which is not a terrible record, however they are fifth in the Pacific Conference. Remember that the Red Wings are 6-4-1 and second in their division; the Pacific is a really tough conference. Whatever teams miss the postseason in the Pacific Conference most likely would have been qualified contenders.
One theme is ubiquitous of the NHL: it is going to be an exciting season for hockey clubs. The realignment has made an impact thus far. Hockey is an unpredictable sport; expect to be surprised and you’ll be expecting correctly.
Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is working as a freelance writer for Sagamore Institute, creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in either economics, public policy, political science or business.