Proposed NHL realignment pleases some, irks others
This time last year, when the NHL laid out its original proposal for divisional realignment, the Flyers and Penguins were skating in separate "conferences."
After last spring's epic playoff series - and wild first two games this season - is there any chance the NHL would ever let that happen again?
"Especially after the playoffs, I don't think they'll want to take that away again," Danny Briere said with a smile. "It's so complicated. You're trying to please as many teams as possible."
Rest assured, as the NHL and its Players' Association battle on realignment yet again, the Flyers and Penguins rivalry won't be going anywhere - unlike the Phillies and Pirates rivalry of decades past.
There still will be changes for the Flyers, according to the NHL's memo on Tuesday that was circulated to all 30 teams. Four "conferences" have turned back into the regular two, with two divisions in each. The "new" Atlantic would feature the Flyers, Penguins, Devils, Rangers, Islanders, Capitals, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets.
The biggest change is the addition of Columbus, a logical geographic rival for Pittsburgh, which has visited Ohio's capital only seven times in the Blue Jackets' 12 NHL seasons.
The two Florida teams - Panthers and Lightning - would be placed with the Red Wings, Canadiens, Bruins, Maple Leafs, Senators and Sabres in the "Central" division.
If you're counting, that makes 16 teams in the East - which leaves 14 teams in the West. Players already have begun to gripe that teams in the West will have a 57 percent chance to make the playoffs, compared with 50 percent in the East. That discrepancy finally was sorted out in baseball this year with Houston moving to the American League to put 15 teams in each league.
"Everybody has their little points of view, I guess," Briere said. "You're always going to make some teams happy and some teams not happy. We heard that they promised Detroit they'd be the next team to move out East. If you move them, then what about Columbus? Columbus is traveling out West, being in the Eastern time zone. It's so complicated."
Columbus plays only 53 games per season in its home time zone. Winnipeg would move West.
One new wrinkle in the setup is the schedule. The Flyers would play 28 games vs. the West (one home and one away), 24 games against Central Division teams (extra home game team will be rotated every season) and 30 games against their own Atlantic rivals (two teams five times, five teams four times).
Where things get tricky are the Stanley Cup playoffs. To avoid inequities, the current plan is to have the top three teams in each division qualify, followed by two "wild-card" teams from each conference - yet both can come from one division if they finish with higher points. Example: In the East, the Atlantic could have five teams qualify and three teams from the Central. The overall number of playoff teams would remain 16.
Buffalo's Steve Ott has an issue with the playoff chances,
disregarding the fact that his
Sabres would be 13th in the West right now instead of 16th in the East.
"That's completely unfair," Ott told the Buffalo News. "They preach parity and having the same chance. Well, the goal in hockey is to make the playoffs. If they can come up with some magical formula, where teams can have the same opportunity to make the playoffs, then I'm for it. That's the biggest issue right now."
The NHLPA shot down the NHL's proposal last year, likely just to flex its muscles before an impending lockout. This plan has gone before a vote of players, though Flyers representative Braydon Coburn said he was playing phone tag with union leaders on Wednesday.
Rogers Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reported Friday the NHL and NHLPA are expected to announce a tentative agreement soon, though it would still need to be approved by the Board of Governors. One thing is for sure, though, the Flyers - who traditionally fly the fewest air miles in the league - don't have much room to open their mouths.
Unless, you know, Pittsburgh is too far to trade barbs with at least four times a year.
"Here in Philadelphia, we can't complain very much,"
Briere acknowledged. "We have it fairly easy here, compared to a lot of teams. It's probably not going to happen, but you're trying to please as many teams as possible."
In an effort to create "roster flexibility," presumably in case of a trade, the Flyers waived Tom Sestito on Thursday hoping he would sneak through unclaimed. It didn't happen.
Sestito, 25, was claimed by Vancouver. He is expected to be in the Canucks lineup
Saturday against Los Angeles, skating with Jordan Schroeder and Dale Weise. Sestito netted two goals in seven games with the Flyers this season, but never got the opportunity to crack Peter Laviolette's lineup regularly.
One benefit for the Flyers is that they are now at 49 contracts toward the 50-contract limit.
According to a source, as many as three teams put in a claim for Sestito - including league-leading Chicago and Montreal - but were thwarted by Vancouver. Waiver dibs are the reverse of league standings.
"It's bittersweet," Sestito told reporters Friday. "I love it here in Philly, but I get a new chance."
Chris Pronger participated in Thursday night's pregame ceremony in St. Louis to honor Barret Jackman's passing him on the Blues' all-time games played list. Jackman played in his 616th game with St. Louis.
Coincidentally, the game was against the Blackhawks. No word on whether Pronger stole the puck from the ceremonial faceoff.
Former second-round pick Mitch Wahl made his Phantoms debut on Feb. 17, even though he wasn't acquired by the Flyers until Feb. 25. How is that? On Friday night, the Phantoms played the final 23:42 of their game that was suspended on Feb. 17 after Springfield's Wade MacLeod had an on-ice seizure. They then played their full, 60-minute matchup as regularly scheduled. Calgary traded Wahl to the Flyers on Monday in exchange for Mike Testwuide.
Michael Leighton cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL Adirondack. Brian Boucher remains as Ilya Bryzgalov's backup . . . Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who left Wednesday's game after aggravating his groin, said Friday he is healthy enough to play against Ottawa . . . The Flyers signed two players to entry-level deals on Friday: goaltender and second-round pick Anthony Stolarz and undrafted forward Brandon Alderson. Stolarz, 19, is 9-2-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .926 save percentage for London (OHL). Alderson, 21, has 57 points in 59 games for Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), where he is the roommate and linemate of Flyers prospect Nick Cousins . . .
Andrej Meszaros (shoulder) participated in Friday's 2-hour practice in a regular jersey, which would seem to mean he is cleared for contact.