Kris Letang takes down the Flyers' Kimmo Timonen in an April game. Realignment has the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference, but that's no threat to their in-state rivalry with the Flyers, who fall in the same division.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A quick way to think about the NHL realignment that kicks in this season might go like this: The gang's all here.
The league has, in many instances, kept rivalries intact. That's certainly the case for the Penguins, who remain in the same division as Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York teams the Islanders and Rangers.
But now under the league's new two-conference, four-division format, the Penguins are in a division that also includes Washington, Carolina and Columbus, which moved from the Western Conference to the East.
The Penguins have faced Columbus just 14 times since 2000-01.
"The way things are done now, it will create some new rivalries, but we'll also have the old ones," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said.
The Penguins, who open the season Thursday against New Jersey at Consol Energy Center, are no longer in the Atlantic Division. That name is now for teams that previously made up most of the Northeast, a name no longer used. The Western divisions are the Central and the Pacific.
The Penguins now reside in the Metropolitan Division, a moniker that has drawn some guffaws, even ridicule, but not universally.
"I couldn't care less about the name," Dupuis said. "I'll look at the standings. I don't think I'll look at whatever the division or conference is called. It's the teams that I'm facing [most often] that affect me."
Although every team will play in each of the other 29 cities at least once under realignment, divisions take on deeper importance in terms of playoff berths. The Penguins will face their division foes four or five times each.
Most recently, the top eight teams in each conference qualified for the postseason, with the three division winners in each conference earning the respective top three seeds.
Now, the top three teams in each division qualify, plus the next two best records in the conference. That wild-card setup could mean as many as five teams or as few as three teams could reach the postseason from a division.
"That stuff seems pretty normal," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It's a new spin on it because of the new divisions. Ultimately, it's still the top eight teams, the way I see it."
Scuderi also likes the fact that fans in each city will get to see each team at least once. That hasn't always been the case.
"I think that every team should play every other team," he said. "I think it makes it more balanced. I know it makes the travel a little more difficult, but I do think it's the right thing to do."
Penguins winger Craig Adams agreed -- to a point.
"It's great for the fans to be able to see every team," he said. "What that's going to do with travel, we'll see. [The schedule makers] assured us they were going to try to be a little bit more conscious of the scheduling."
That, Adams said, included bundling games on the West Coast so that there would only be one or two such trips. The Penguins, though, will make one trip to Western Canada and two to California.
"It would be nice to bang those games out all at once, but I understand that building availability is what it is, things like that," Adams said.
Another point of contention among some players is the unbalanced nature of the conferences.
Detroit, like Columbus, moved from the West to the East, and Winnipeg moved to the West. That leaves two eight-team divisions in the East and two seven-team divisions in the West.
That means there are fewer teams in the West competing for the same number of playoff spots.
"The conferences still seem a little weird to me, the numbers being off balance," Scuderi said. "It seems a little odd, but I'm sure that they have their reasons for it."
Adams was less diplomatic.
"The only thing I really have a problem with is the playoff format," he said. "This is a league where you can make a good career out of your playoff reputation, and if half the guys don't have the same chance to play in playoff games, then that can affect guys' careers in the long term. A lot of guys are still riding off of what they did in one good playoffs.
"I don't think the players really view it as something that can be a long-term solution. How can you have that inequity every year?"
Perhaps the NHL won't. Speculation is that the league might be leaving room for expansion by two teams to 32, which could lead to an equal number of teams in each division and conference.
"You would think so," Adams said. "I hope there's some sort of a plan. I don't think it's tenable in the long term as it is."