Looking ahead at 2012, many questions surround the Montreal Canadiens.
Will Andrei Markov return? What will happen to Scott Gomez and his egregious contract? What fate will be reserved for Randy Cunneyworth and Pierre Gauthier? How will the new CBA impact the team?
Amidst this sea of unknowns, there is at least one item that remains certain: Montreal will play in a new conference next season, joining Buffalo, Toronto, Boston, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Likewise, around the league three others conferences of either seven or eight teams will be formed and the top four in each will qualify for the post-season. Once a conference champion is crowned, the idea is that the remaining four teams will face off against each other, creating the potential for some unusual semi-final matchups.
The scheduling matrix will be changed accordingly and every team will, at a minimum, play a home-and-away series against each other.
Taking a break from contemplating the many uncertainties facing the club, our resident writers, Bryan Willey and Rosalyn Roy, discuss how they feel about this re-alignment and how it might affect the Habs.
Bryan Willey: I absolutely hate it. How does it make sense to have Montreal in the same division as the Florida teams?
I understand the league wants to group the major metropolitan areas, but the Canadiens have to fly across the Eastern seaboard just to get to Florida. C'est ridicule.
Only having seven squads in the conference makes it slightly easier playoff wise, but the amount of travel will balance that. And don't even get me started on the general poor results the Canadiens muster on their trips to the Sunshine State.
Rosalyn Roy: My first thought when I read of the new four conference format was pretty simple and telling: Patrick, Adams, Smythe and Norris. I've never seen the need for six divisions to begin with.
I get how the restructure does not bode particularly well for Hurricanes or the Islanders, but it is the responsibility of every NHL team to improve to the point where it can legitimately contend.
Making weaker divisions for the chronic bubble or wild card teams to get a shot at the Stanley Cup does not benefit the sport, which is why the league currently has 30 teams, some of which are in markets that will never, ever be self-sustaining.
As for the Habs, not much has changed. They're still going to contend with Boston and Toronto a lot of the time, though they caught a break avoiding the likes of Philadelphia and getting the two Florida teams, who actually got the short end of that deal.
That said, I'm not sold on the playoffs format with the top four in each division contending against each other, with a reset once the division champs are crowned and they move to the semi-finals.
I'll have to reserve some enthusiasm until I see it actually play out. But a Toronto or Boston series for the conference crown is appealing.
Bryan Willey: Again, I don't like it. More travel, more games against the West, and a division featuring two teams with no relevance.
Can't wait to see the amazing playoff schedule. Let's play Boston (what else is new?) in round one and then perhaps the likes of San Jose or Anaheim down the road. Yeah that's going to make for better hockey.
And what's the deal with 16 Western teams and 14 Eastern teams. What happens when Phoenix is moved?
It also irks me that the other Eastern teams basically travel by bus everywhere yet Montreal faces two Florida teams nearly 2,500 km away.
I can understand wanting Four divisions but to have Florida and Tampa with us makes no sense except to fill the arenas with the Snowbirds.
Rosalyn Roy: All teams have to travel to some extent. For the Habs and their Jekyll and Hyde persona, I'm not sure it plays a factor anyway. They can have three days off and still come out with no zip in their skates or play four games in a week and come out firing.
Frankly, I like playing more teams in the West. I'm sick to death of Boston, Philly, Toronto and not much else rammed down my throat year after year. I'd like to enjoy players from the other conferences too.
When the Habs are in the playoffs it's exciting for me, regardless of whom they are playing against. If we can get out of the new conference at all, I'll be happy but that's a long shot at best anyway.
After that it's all gravy.
There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that Florida and Tampa Bay got jammed into this conference in hopes of making them profitable. At least we're not them and having to commute almost every game to face pretty much everyone else within the division. The NHL is nothing if not consistent in trying to sustain its non-hockey cash strapped markets.
As for Phoenix, I'm sure we'll gripe about it when it happens. In the meantime I can speculate all I want, but it's clear Bettman will likely have to tweak depending on where they go.
Bryan Willey: I could care less about playing San Jose or Columbus or Colorado. I want to see the Habs play Boston eight times a year. Same for Toronto, Buffalo and Ottawa.
I like the way baseball does it with the teams playing only same league teams except for designated periods of the season.
Like you, I'm happy when the Canadiens are in the playoffs. I want to see the best hockey, not teams fatigued because of incessant cross-continental travel. Play in the East only and then make your way to the West for the Cup. That's how it is now and how it should remain.
And why are there 14 Eastern teams and 16 Western teams? It doesn't make sense that more than 50% make the playoffs in the east.
My guess on this is that Florida folds soon because they now have 11,000 more miles to travel and that's going to be costly to them.
What about the rest of you, do you like the league’s proposed realignment? How do you think it will impact the Habs?
Bryan is a Marketer by day, writer for HabsAddict.com by night and full time fan of the game. Follow me on twitter @BryanWilley78 but don't bother looking for me on Facebook, I'm just too old for that now!
Rosalyn used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.
He Said / She Said is regular column on HabsAddict slated to appear on a bi-weekly basis.
(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)