Report: Major realignment coming to NHL next season

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Things are going to look odd this year with Winnipeg playing in the Southeast Division and the Red Wings and Blue Jackets continuing to play in the Eastern time zone while existing in the Western Conference. Those days may be long over after this season, however, as it’s being reported by The Sporting News’ Craig Custance that major realignment is on the way to the NHL next season.

With Winnipeg in the Southeast and three teams in Columbus, Detroit, and Nashville itching to get out of the Western Conference and into the Eastern Conference, something’s got to give to help make sense of things for all the teams and help normalize things. Custance talked with an unnamed NHL executive who said that things will break down in a most fascinating way.

“The fact remains that there are three teams that should be in the East that are in the West,” the executive said. “The only way you can make everybody happy is by restructuring the whole thing. That’s what they’re working on.”

The leading plan calls for the league to be divided into four divisions — two with eight teams and two with seven teams. The plan is expected to be finalized during the December Board of Governers meetings.

Huh, four divisions you say? Two with seven teams? Say, there’s seven Canadian teams in the NHL once again with Winnipeg back in the mix. That wouldn’t be too obvious, right?

This kind of set up also makes us think back to when the divisions had legendary names like Patrick, Adams, Norris, and Smythe and they played in the Campbell and Wales Conferences. With throwbacks being all the rage, especially with Winnipeg going by the Jets once again, it’d be fascinating to see things shake down like that again. It’s doubtful but you never know.

What will be most interesting is how they’ll breakdown the playoffs out of this setup. Another throwback idea could involve the NHL bringing back the divisional playoffs that see the top four teams in each division make the postseason and then face off tournament style against each other like the NHL used to do in the 1980s.

In that format the division leader would face the fourth place team and the second and third place teams would battle to face each other in the divisional finals. The winners of the divisional playoffs would then square off in the conference finals and then on to the Stanley Cup finals. With rumors of a balanced schedule coming back, settling things out this way would again make sense because then every team is playing each other evenly.

That much is far off and with the possibility of the new alignment being worked out at the December Board of Governors meeting we’ll have something figured out soon enough. For now, it’s time for everyone to get creative with how they think things will end up being broken down. Do we see a resurrection of the Norris Division? Will we get an all-Canada division? How about the return of the Patrick Division where you get Washington and Pittsburgh joining the Flyers, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils? Good lord.  Give it your best shot in the comments to figure things out.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)

‘Old Time Hockey’ video game takes a bit of an early beating from reviewers

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From the sound of things, “Old Time Hockey” is a video game with a lot of heart, but maybe not the skills to make it to the big time.

While “NHL 17” is pumped out by publishing giant EA Sports, this title is very much an independent labor of love by a company called V7 Entertainment. Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy provided a great interview with the developers here. It’s worth noting that the game reminds one of 8-bit titles in another way: lacking an NHL license, these teams are instead fictional. This isn’t necessarily a drawback as much as it provides the title with its own unique “flavor.”

It’s hard not to get behind a scrappy development, especially in an age where sports video game options are so scarce. Some leagues barely see any licensed games any longer (see: the MLB, which feels woefully misrepresented these days), and the arcade-style that “Blades of Steel” and other old-school games popularized is even tougher to come by.

Combine these factors with an aesthetic inspired by “Slap Shot” and “Old Time Hockey” seems like it could really scratch an itch … except, it sounds like the puck missed the net.

So far, reviews are pretty mixed for the title, which is currently on PC and Playstation 4 (with planned releases on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch).

While there are a few good reviews here and there, the general reception is of disappointment.

A Sporting News review states that “the promising premise falls apart quickly.” Game Informer slams a “slew-footed story mode.” PC Gamer notes that, with EA not releasing an NHL game on that platform since 2008, there was a need here … but it wasn’t met.

Does that mean there’s no fun to be had? Not necessarily, but it’s a bummer that the game might be off the mark, especially since V7 Entertainment seems to have its heart in the right place.

Then again, maybe those who want that “NHL 94” fix merely need to dig a little. As this Vice article points out, there’s still an active community playing the sort of game that scratches the itch that “Old Time Hockey” – perhaps – can’t quite reach.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Penguins – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry presents quite the treat: the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both teams are at 103 standings points and each squad already punched a ticket to the playoffs. Even so, they’re dealing with mini-slumps that they’d like to work out tonight.

For all we know, this could be a preview of what would be one extremely fun, high-profile 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Either way, it’s a showcase of two premiere franchises brimming with star power.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

Yes, NHL will share protected, available player lists for expansion draft

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We can debate all day how much the NHL, Vegas Golden Knights and others involved really want to do this, but they’re making the right choice with the expansion draft nonetheless. The league will make protected and available players lists available at the same time they’re shared with teams, according to NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

(The NHL tweeted out as much, too.)

Could this lead to feelings being hurt or perhaps even certain sneaky deals being scuttled? Perhaps, but those are headaches that management should be expected to absorb.

The bottom line is that an expansion draft is a dream come true for armchair GMs, rumor enthusiasts, fantasy sports fans and … really, just about anyone interested in hockey. It would be a bewildering decision to try to keep all of this information locked down, even for a league that frequently garners a reputation for choosing comfort over entertainment value.

Cotsonika reports that such lists will probably be made available on June 18, though that isn’t set in stone. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen also backs this up as a possible date.

(If you’re the type to take off work if a trade deadline was exciting, you might want to start drumming up excuses/putting aside vacation time/practicing your best “I’m sick” voice just in case …)

Cap Friendly provides a handy timeline for the expansion draft process: