PITTSBURGH The Bruins had to have the new NHL realignment plan explained to them a couple of times in the afterglow of a meaningful victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Andrew Ference and Shawn Thornton both had surprised looks on their faces when they learned that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers will be joining them in the Snowbird Conference when things finally shake out.
Thats the most meaningful change for the Bruins. Rumors about previous plans had both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins joining the Northeast Division for an incredibly tough super-conference, but instead both the Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets remained in the Western Conferences.
The Bruins will play their current Northeast Division opponents plus Tampa and Florida six times per season, and then will battle with those teams through the first two rounds of the playoffs each season. It conjures up images of the bloody old Adams Division battles featuring the Bruins and heated rivalries with the Nordiques and Canadiens among others.
The hope is the new alignment will rekindle many of those rivalries just as the Bruins and Habs have maintained theirs through seemingly annual meetings in the postseason.
The realignment plan was overwhelmingly approved by the NHL Board of Governors on Monday night during their Pebble Beach meetings, but may not take effect next season as the NHLPA also needs to weigh in on the configuration.
But the changes still held interest for the curious Bruins players. Gregory Campbell played five seasons for the Florida Panthers before landing in Boston, and he said the move could open an entirely new competitive door for the hockey teams remaining in the Sunshine Belt.
I guess it's more travel. One of the things that was nice about coming from Florida to Boston was that the travel was so good, said Campbell. Most teams are within an hour plane ride of us, but its something that were all going to have to adjust to. Those are good and talented young teams being added to our division. Theyre up and coming, so theyll be good in the future.
So itll make things more difficult, but I also think its good for hockey. When you play in Florida you dont really have the rivalries. Theyll see firsthand the rivalries in our division, and I think we have some of the best rivalries in the league. Those arent huge hockey markets in Florida, so the change to play against bigger hockey markets on a more regular basis is a good thing for the league.
There are still some kinks to be ironed out with the realignment plan rolled out quickly by the NHL, but it seems there are few that had issues with the way things were handled by the powers that be. Classic rivalries are kept together, the Red Wings have an easier travel schedule and the Winnipeg Jets will be located in a more geographically logical place once things get started.