On Monday night, the NHL's Board of Governors approved a radical realignment that would restructure the entire league into four conferences and placing the Colorado Avalanche into a "Pacific Conference", along with the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Phoenix Coyotes.
Now that the plan is in place, here's the question: how does affect the future of the Colorado Avalanche?
SB Nation's NHL editor Travis Hughes had this to say about Colorado's future prospects:
These two teams are rather isolated in comparison to just about all of the competition (although Colorado much more so than Phoenix) so it's tough to change their travel all that much. All in all, the change isn't that huge for these guys, at least not compared to many other teams. The Detroit-Colorado rivalry has waned over the last decade or so, so the fact that they'll only play twice a year doesn't seem like a huge deal.
Coyotes fans aren't exactly thrilled with all the extra attention from Canada, though, and Avalanche fans are worried about their chances at making the playoffs under this format. This is going to be a ridiculously tough conference in a few seasons, and it's already tough now.
Of course, every former Pacific and Northwestern team loves the idea of having money-making teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers coming to visit every season. That's a plus you can't underestimate.
Solely viewing this realignment from a travel perspective, he's completely correct. There would be little change for the Avalanche, except more frequent road swings through California and western Canada. But there are two other major factors in place that are specific for Colorado's audience.
Along with teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, the Avalanche may see the greatest financial boon from realignment. A balanced schedule means guaranteed sellouts at Pepsi Center every season for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, etc. The large number of hockey transplants currently living in Colorado will be guaranteed to see their favorite team at least once a year.
Moving into a conference with the three California teams will also boost attendance, as there is a sizable population of California transplants currently residing in the state. More frequent games against the Ducks, Sharks, and Kings will sell many more tickets than games against the Minnesota Wild.
The one downside of this plan is the lack of national attention. With national broadcasts heavily featuring teams in the eastern time zone, that is likely to become even more extreme in favor of those eastern teams. Yet with so few nationally televised games currently, this realignment would have a negligible impact on the Avalanche fanbase.
This is a beast of a conference, talent-wise. The Sharks, Canucks, and Kings are all Stanley Cup Contenders this season, are built to compete long-term, and can likely pencil in their playoff spot for at least the next few seasons. The Flames are getting older and looking like a rebuilding project for the near future, leaving Colorado competing for that last playoff berth in the conference against a second-tier grouping featuring the Ducks, Oilers, and Coyotes.These teams are all competitive, but are all flawed. Colorado only has to beat out these three teams to guarantee themselves a playoff berth.
Speaking of playoffs...wow. That's a gauntlet, provided you can even get to that #4 seed. The Sharks, Canucks, and Kings (along with Oilers, or Ducks, or Avalanche) in a single pod would make for some incredible (and incredibly difficult) playoff action.
Only one home Minnesota Wild game per year.
Between 2-3 home games each season against the Oilers, Canucks, and Flames.
In general, the fans win because this balanced schedule allows them to see the entire league at least once per season. Colorado Avalanche fans win because they will no longer have 30% of the scheduled home games against one of the more yawn-worthy groups of division "rivals". Do you know anyone that is going to miss that third Flames game of the month at Pepsi Center?
The league is trying to rebrand itself around star power. Well, here is a list of names you get to see multiple times at Pepsi Center every season:
Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Bobby Ryan, Shane Doan, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Ryan Getzlaf, Jarome Iginla, Drew Doughty, Joe Pavelski, Dany Heatley, Corey Perry...the list really goes on and on.
Overall, restructuring should be a financial boon for the Avalanche front office. With a young team that is starting to find it's footing, plenty of cap space, and some impact prospects coming up the pipeline, Colorado could soon find a boost in home attendance to lock up this young talent. For the fans, it should make for a much more fascinating regular season -- and the playoffs will be incredible.
Good job, Gary Bettman. Good job, Board of Governors. You found a system that works.