As with all of these kinds of moves, there are some huge pros and cons involved. Here's the run down of what the NHL wants to do:
Like the previous realignment proposal, the NHL wants to switch from a 3 divisions per conference format to a 4 conference format. Then they want each conference to have a divisional playoff. I'm not sure why the NHL insists on changing divisions to conferences then calls them divisions when the playoffs come around, but I'm not in those meetings.
The four conferences will be made up of two sets of 8 teams, and two sets of 7 teams, broken up mostly by time zone. This means that there are some big changes for teams like the Winnipeg Jets. Here's how the conferences look:
The big change for the Montreal Canadiens from the last proposal is that instead of being in one of the 7 team conferences, they're now in an 8 team conference, with the new addition being the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are an original six team and a big draw around the league after two decades of dominance, but they're on the downslide after Nicklas Lidstrom retired this summer, and Pavel Datsyuk is great, but he's also 35 years old. This specific change has to be seen as all positive in my opinion, as the Habs get the added revenue and excitement of the Red Wings, but not the dominant team they used to be in their division.
Each conference will have 4 playoff seeds available, with the first seed playing the 4th seed. This creates a very obvious problem, which was discussed at length after the last proposal, if you're in a conference that has 7 teams instead of 8, by sheer probability you have a better chance of making the playoffs. There's also the issue that a weak conference could put weak teams into the playoffs that don't deserve to be there. The central conference in the map for example, has two teams of seven that I would consider playoff caliber. Two!
To alleviate this problem slightly, the NHL is considering a wildcard scenario, where if one conference's 5th placeteam has more points than another conference's 4th place team, they can cross over. But the NHL wants to avoid this at all costs due to increased travel.
It's assumed at this point that each team would play each conference opponent 5 or 6 times a season, with the rest of the games evenly split among the other conferences.
What about Expansion?
Another question that has to be raised is how this new proposal could be affected by expansion? There are constant rumours that both Toronto and Quebec city will be getting teams very soon, and both of those areas would be in the same division as the Canadiens. They could cut the Florida teams out, but then where do they go?
The league has deftly set itself up for expansion to the 3rd city so often mentioned in rumours though, as Seattle could easily slide into that Pacific conference.
Eventually you've got to think that the NHL wants four conferences of 8 teams each, but it's a difficult thing getting there. You're never going to fit 8 teams into that central conference unless you put Columbus or Detroit back in there after finally putting them in the Eastern time zone games after years and years of complaining. I can't see how that would go over well.
Personally I think there are just two many big hockey markets in the east for this 4 conferences idea to be practical.
What do you think?