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Thursday, January 5, 2012

He Said / She Said: The Canadiens' New Conference

Tomas Kaberle - Montreal Canadiens v Florida Panthers
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)

20 comments:

Excellent piece guys!

Another gem!

OK, time to dive in:

@Bryan: if you're a team like, say, the Canucks, you're already crying about having to travel more than most teams. Detroit too.

I get the sense that fans in those cities would/will have little sympathy for the traveling Habs.

@Roz: You are BANG ON in that this wreaks of the league trying to prop up the FLA franchises/give the Habs fans in Florida more games against the Habs.

At the end of the day, this is an interesting realignment that, imo, needs to play out for us to see how good or bad it really will be.

The new playoff format smells a lot like the old days of (as Roz mentioned) the Adams, Patrick, Smythe and Norris divisions. I liked playoffs back then better because I liked the inter-division playoffs.

These teams build a season full of bad blood and it makes for great theater when they clash again in the post-season. That way it is right now, that's not always a forgone conclusion.

Good stuff indeed.

As I was reading this, I had a thought. How do you do an All-Star Game if there is no East / West anymore ? A four team round robin? World vs. NA?

@Louis: Ohh, good question...and one which I do not have the answer too. But, if the All Star game is anything like it has been the last decade, who really cares?

As adults, many have contempt for the ASG, but I think that is a shame.

If I were a 7 year old hockey fan, I would be salivating at the notion of my favourite players lining up together (Crosby-Ovechkin, Ignla-Toews, etc.).

The event is meant to be a lighthearted showcase, a break from the routine of the season. It doesn't need to be meaningful or, for that matter, memorable. As adults, we let out cynicism get in the way of that notion.

@KP

I understand our travel is not comparable to some of the Western teams but how does it make sense to actually fly over 7 cities to get to the furthest possible cities from Montreal. It makes no sense whatsoever.

he only reason this has happened is because of the amount of Canadian Snowbirds who fill the Florida arenas (which I try to do every year as well).

I like having a 4 division line-up but simply think the division of the teams should be altered somewhat.

@ Lou

As far as I can see there is still an Eastern and Western conference so I don;t think the ASG will be effected. The only point where we would lose the East vs West I think is once the SC semi-finals kicks in.

Nice analysis there guys! I like all divisions, expect the Habs division because of the Florida teams. Expect the Coyotes to switch divisions before the season starts.

@Fred

I think its no coincidence Montreal plays in a seven team division. Should Phoenix move, Markham, Quebec City or Hamilton would fit in there nicely.

Also, I think the unbalanced conferences (seven vs eight teams) is no coincidence either. Can you say "expansion".

There better no be any expansion. Thy league is watered down as it is and we have markets that cannot maintain a franchise without losing a buttload of money.

Only thing expansion does is generates a few extra million for each of the existing franchises but then creates issues from that point on.

The only logical step is to relocate Phoenix, Florida and perhaps even Columbus to markets that can survive.

@Bryan,

Interesting you complain about facing Boston in the playoff, yet again. But want as many games as possible against them in the regular season.

@anon Wasn't complaining about Boston in the playoffs so I apologize if it sounds that way. Simply point out that this new system will try to build rivalries with teams that have no relevance to the club.

If I could have it my way we would play Boston or Toronto every single year.

@Bryan and Anon

The 'What else is new' comment was added by some silly editor (me). It was meant simply to remark the frequent Bos-Mtl matchups, not as a complaint.

Sorry Bryan!

It's all good.

If I had my way then we wouldn't play the West at all. We'd play all 82 games against the east and then play the west only in the SCF.

Sure I love to watch Detroit but I could care less about watching Columbus or Phoenix or San Jose because it has no impact in our season.

Furthermore how often do we hear about changing our style of play in OT against the west because it is a useless point.

82 games against your conference means 82 important games a year.

I don't think anyone in Montreal has the guts to ask about Gomez or Markov. At PG's "press conference" the main theme was language. The reporters are too afraid to ask tough questions in Montreal. I notice none of you even bothered responding to the first set of questions. Probably because you are afraid the HABS brass will here about it. Do us a favour and start investigative reporting instead of rehashing the same non-news. I can't listen to the TSN radio any longer, you guys just keep talking about the same garbage and nothing new, just like the responses to this column. Please start all your responses with blah blah blah in the future if you are going to rehash or opine on low priority topics.

@sanman_11

Gomez, Markov, the CBA, all are good issues. But they are all unknowns. Every now and then, its nice to actually discuss a subject with facts as opposed to theory.

Besides, a whole range of subjects - from contracts to satire to language to post-game - are addressed on HabsAddict and our group of writers, as well as many in the general media, are more than competent. The difference with the general media, though, is that we do this for free and in our spare time.

@sanman_11: I think the reason no one responded to the questions about Markov and Gomez was that the focus of this piece was the NHL realignment.

That said, I don't think anyone here is afraid to ask tough questions. The thing is that we are not mainstream media and not in the room or at the press conferences.

As for the MSM, yep, they often miss asking the tough questions.

As for us, I think, with the writers we have on board, we have a pretty broad reaching range of views...and, as such, we often disagree with each other!

But to say we don't ask tough questions would be unfair. Maybe you didn't read some of the fiery pieces on Geoff Molson, Jacques Martin, Gomez, Gauthier (and more...).

There's not shortage of unabashed opinion here! But, at the end of the day, we're all entitled to our opinions and I thank you for posting yours either way!

@sanman_11: Oh and if you want my opinion on Markov and Gomez, I don't think Markov will play another game this year...and I think Gomez was an albatross when he was brought on board and, his contract/presence, has/will see the end of the Gainey/Gauthier regime...

@Kamal

I agree. Markov seems unlikely to suit up this year. Can't help but wonder if his career is over.

Gomez needs to be waived or sent to Europe.

People worry about the team's cap situation, but if you substract those two contracts it frees up over 13 million!

I think the Markov contract axtually makes re-alignment easier to swallow. At least now when we make unnecessary trips to Florida we can have a reason behind it with Markov visiting his doctor.

Hey folks, maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree but to be honest it seems to me you guys are drinking the HABS front office cool aid like everyone else. Don't write an article starting with the most pressing issues and then drift off into realignment that is secondary to what is happening with this team. I realize you may not have facts and don't want to discuss theories but what I just read above (after my post) is a lot more of what I expect, a dialogue around the one, two, or three possibilities moving forward. We are not talking about an immeasurable number of combinations and as writers and followers we should be able to deconsruct the few permutations for this club. Maybe, just maybe one of those inept reporters closer to the club will pick up on it and ask some hard questions. At the very least we will help the HABS faithful get through this with their heads intact.

@sanman_11

I doubt anyone here is drinking Front Office Kool-Aid. Heck, on any given day, 100% of the staff here wants the people in the Montreal Front Office to get fired.

As for getting through this with our heads intact, I can understand your frustration. Its been a rough season.

Scotch is an interesting option.

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